Southwestern States Mission
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
PO Box 493.  Kansas City, Mo.

Dec. 16, 1902.

Prest. Anthon H. Lund,
Church Historian
Salt Lake City, Utah

Dear Brother:–

Having been informed that Mr. James Orme, the lasting witness of the death of Apostle Parley P. Pratt, and Mr. John Stewart, the man who drove the team that hauled the body to the grave, were living, the former about seven miles north west of Van Buren, Arkansas, and, the latter in Van Buren, on Sept. 3, 1902, I called upon these gentlemen, also upon John Neal, Ex-Mayor of Van Buren and received from them the following statement with regard to the assassination of that great man.

Mr. Orme, who was justice of the peace at the time of the assassination and was present at the _________ Pratt, related the circumstances as follows:

McLean, in a speech to the crowd in the street after the arrest of Apostle Pratt, said that he had sent his children from California to New Orleans to be cared for by Mrs. McLean’s parents, she having previously left him and married Apostle Pratt, thus breaking up his family.  Learning that her children were _______ Mrs. McLean returned to her father telling him that McLean had mistreated her and she wished to come and live with her children.  After _________ some time she got the children on board a boat and took them to Galveston.  From Galveston she brought them by way of Houston, Texas, to Ft. Gibson, Indian Territory.  Here she met Apostle Pratt who had come from St. Louis to get her.  He, McLean learning of the abduction of his children started in pursuit.  Such in brief was McLean’s account of his wives connection with Apostle Pratt.

What now follows was given by Mr. Orme from his own knowledge.  When McLean arrived at Van Buren it went before U.S. Commissioner John H. Ogbern, and swore out a complaint charging Apostle Pratt with stealing the clothes of his children.  The warrant was placed in the hands of a deputy U.S. Marshall who arrested him, Apostle Pratt, at or near Ft. Gibson and brought him back to Van Buren for trial, arriving on Monday.  On Tuesday he was tried and acquitted, assassinated on Wednesday and buried on Thursday.  This was in the month of May, 1857, but the day of the month is not remembered by Mr. Orme.  At the trial Mrs. McLean gave testimony for the accused stating that the clothes did not belong to McLean as they were not furnished b y him.  During the taking of her testimony the public were excluded from the court room.  But the testimony for or against Apostle Pratt was not the material point, for it was understood by some that the charge against him was only a ruse adopted to have him brought back so that McLean could get hold of him.  At the trial Apostle Pratt made this statement: “I have only done for this woman what I would do for any lady oppressed in this land of liberty.”  At this McLean would have shot him down, had he not been prevented from so doing by an officer of the court.

McLean’s  speech to the crowd in the street had inflamed their passions; fearing violence if he were discharged at the close of the trial, Apostle Pratt requested the officers to take him back to the jail, which was done for his protection.  The morning after the trial, Wednesday, he was released and put on his horse, which is described as a very good one, and started north west toward Ft. Gibson.  Parties had been detailed to watch the jail to see that ____ not escape and as soon as he was released word was sent to McLean, who, with the crowd immediately started in pursuit.  They, however, lost trace of Apostle Pratt and all turned back except McLean and the other man who were on horse back, James Cornell and Amasa Howell, who continued the pursuit of their victim overtaking him near a blacksmith shop, about twelve miles north west of Van Buren.  McLean immediately opened fire on Apostle Pratt who then turned from the road and dashed into the thicket followed by his murderer.  Beyond the thicket the road forked; one of the men with McLean rushed on to this point while the other remained at the place where the two had entered the timber.  In a short time McLean came out of the thicket and returned again, with a derringer which he got from one of the men with him, immediately after which pistol shots were heard in the direction McLean went.  McLean now came out of the thicket again when the three returned to Van Buren.  Two of the shots fired by McLean before Apostle Pratt turned from the road, entered the back of his saddle and several passed through his clothing but none touched his body.

When the firing began word was sent to the justice of the peace, Mr. Orme, that a murder was being committed, and he with several others hurried to the place where Apostle Pratt lay.  When they arrived Apostle Pratt was sitting up but very seriously wounded.  He asked one of the party for a drink which was given.  Mr. Orme then asked him if a doctor should be sent for.  He replied: “No, no” and fell back dead.  Mr. Orme then made an examination of the body and found three deep knife wounds in the left side in the region of the heart, two above the other and the two crossing each other.  There was also a bullet mark on the front of the collar bone but the ball had glanced off.  This was supposed to be a shot from the derringer previously referred to.  From the condition of his clothing it appeared that Apostle Pratt had been pulled from his horse.

On examination of the clothing Mr. Orme found upon Apostle Pratt ________________, one pair older eyeglasses and a knife unopened.

An inquest was held, Mr. Orme acting as coroner.  What the coroners verdict was Mr. Orme did not state.  A man by the name of Stewart was employed to make the coffin and take the body to the grave yard.  The team was driven by a sixteen year old son of Mr. Stewart.  His name is John and he is still living in Van Buren.  The coffin was of yellow pine and when laid in the grave was inclosed in a pine box.  The body was buried in what was known as Sherman’s graveyard, now known as Fine Springs.  Before the body was laid in the coffin Mrs. McLean took a winding sheet and wrapped it round and round the body, beginning at the feet.

After paying funeral and other expenses, Mr. Orme turned the Apostle’s effects over to the state.  Mr. Orme is now in his eighty-seventh year, but with his faculties very well preserved.  When I talked with him he manifested a very bitter spirit toward anything savoring of “Mormonism.”

In my conversation with Ex-Mayor Neal and Mr. Stewart, they corroborated Mr. Orme’s account as far as they were acquainted with the facts.  But Mr. Orme and Mr. Neal disagree as touching one thing.  Mr. Neal, who afterwards was clerk of the court, says that an indictment was found against McLean for murder, while Mr. Orme says no indictment was found.  This cannot be established from the records for they were all destroyed in a fire about 1872.

Mr. Orme said that after the trouble was over means was raised to send Mrs. McLean back to her father, but he understood she went to St. Louis and from there to Utah.

I also made inquiries as to the probability of locating the grave of Apostle Pratt.  Mr. Orme was very emphatic that it could not be definitely located, but both Mr. Neal and Mr. Stewart, who are very friendly disposed toward us, informed me that there were two brothers by the name of Fine, living near the old grave yard who say that they can identify the grave, but I have not had time to visit them to find out definitely as to this.

There is another thing connected with Apostle Pratt’s release from custody that I had overlooked.  When he was given his liberty, the morning after the trial, he was offered a revolver but refused to take it.

Trusting that this brief account of that sad affair may be of use to the historian,

I am with kindest regards,

Your Brother in the Gospel,
James G. Duffin

[transcribed and proofread by David Grow, Jan. 2007]

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