The Facts in Detail of the Discovery of the Burial Place of the Body
of Elder Parley Parker Pratt

by James M. Pope Sr.

Elder Parley Parker Pratt, an apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints was chosen to be one of the first members of the first quorum of twelve apostles called to be “Special witnesses for Christ in these latter days” was brutally and unmercifully murdered in Crawford County, Arkansas on the 13th day of May 1857.

Circumstances Leading to the Crime

A Woman whose maiden name was Eleanor McComb became the wife of one Dr. Hector McLean, a minister in a church in California (thought to be Presbyterian.) Mrs. McLean accepted the restored gospel and was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Her husband told her to leave home — which she did, taking with her the two little daughters of this marriage. Mrs. McLean went to Texas to make her home with her father. It seems that for the next two years she was in correspondence with Elder Pratt. McLean got a commission from the United States Government as postal inspector by which authority he intercepted the correspondence between them — keeping up with their movements and activities.

At Van Buren, Arkansas

Mrs. McLean went to Van Buren, Arkansas to join other saints who were making preparation to form a caravan to cross the country to Salt Lake City. Parley met her there and outfitted her with a team of horses and wagon and other provisions necessary to make the trip.

Parley Arrested

While in Van Buren Mrs. McLean sent the clothing of the little girls to a wash woman and when the clothing was ready Parley went to the woman’s home and picked up the clothing.

McLean appeared on the scene and had Parley arrested for stealing the clothing. Whether he made bond is not mentioned but was tried and acquitted.


Tension arose among the citizens and people took sides in the matter of the presence of the Mormon among them. One man in particular, Marcy Howell, the postmaster, who took sides with Hector McLean who had threatened the life of Parley. Parley requested the protection of spending the night in jail which was granted.

The Next Morning

The saints assembled in the city of Van Buren had planned to leave there this morning and, as planned, drove out of town early going in the direction of a certain ferry on the Arkansas River at Fort Gibson, Oklahoma across the river from Arkansas. In this caravan was Eleanor McLean and her two little girls.

Parley Rides Out

It seems that some time elapsed before Parley came out, saddled his horse and rode out of town, and as he did two pairs of eyes were upon him — those of Marcy Howell and Hector McLean. A conversation was overheard between them which is reported to be as follows:

Howell: “Are you going to let him go?”
McLean: “Yes, I have followed him as far as I am going to.”
Howell: “What will the people think of you after what you have threatened? If you want to go after him I will go with you.”
So saying, they saddled their horses and rode after him. Both men carrying fire arms.
The Pursuit

Riding northeastward out of the town of Van Buren in the general direction which follows the course of the river, McLean and Howell followed Parley in the general direction of highways 64 and 71 to a point approximately three miles north and one mile west of the present town of Alma at the juncture of 64 and 71.

Parley Overtaken

At a point where the road was on the hillside, a few yards before turning down into the valley, the two pursuers overtook Parley and McLean started shooting at him as he galloped his horse down the hill through the brush. Spending all his bullets he took Howell’s gun and emptied it at the apostle–(later developments showed that not one bullet touched his person but there was a bullet hole in his hat, one in his coat and another in a coat sleeve. Some bullets struck the back of his saddle) McLean spurred his house to a speed at which he galloped to a neck-and neck position with Parley’s horse and struck Parley in the chest, a back-handed blow with a dirk knife, striking Parley at the bottom of the sternum, knocking him from his horse.

Howell Questions Mclean

McLean galloped back to where Howell was observing the dastardly act and Howell asked him if he had done a good job of it and suggested that he return to Parley and examine him. Where upon he returned and dismounted — approaching Parley who was lying on the ground trying to stop the flowing blood from his chest. McLean then thrust his dagger into the open wound and stabbed him several times more.

Observed by Zealey Wynn

A hundred yards or more from where this took place, there was a blacksmith’s shop owned and operated by a man whose name was Zealey Wynn. He, hearing the gun-fire, went in the direction of the shooting and seeing the approach of the men, stood behind a tree and witnessed this tragedy at a distance where he could hear plainly the words which were spoken. Wynn rushed to the place where Parley lay and was joined soon by John Steward, who had also heard the shooting from where he was working at his father’s saw mill.

Parley Carried to Wynn’s House

Steward and Wynn carried Parley up a hill to Wynn’s home and a runner was sent to overtake the caravan. This accomplished, Mrs. McLean returned to the scene of the crime and spent several hours with Parley before he expired some time during the night. The Apostle remained rational to the end. The writer learned nothing of the conversation which was carried on between Parley and Mrs. McLean during his last hours.

A Coffin Made of Green Lumber

At the sawmill before mentioned there was a coffin made of green lumber produced at the sawmill. This coffin was taken to the Wynn home by the seventeen-year-old boy who had assisted Wynn in carrying Parley to his home. The transportation consisting of a yolk of oxen hitched to a two-wheeled cart. From there the body of the Apostle was taken a distance of approximately a mile in a north-easterly direction to the public community burial grounds.

Circumstantially, a Proper and Fitting Funeral

Outside the burial grounds stood a little log house. This house was used for both a school house and a place to hold sacred services. Zealey Wynn was superintendent of the little Sunday School held there. This good man made a talk at the funeral held for Parley in that little log house. Saddening indeed that we do not have, at least some of the words he spoke there on that sad day.

It could be that the two little daughters of Mrs. McLean returned with her to the scene of the martyrdom as she drove that team and wagon back to spend his last hours with him who had provided that means of transportation for them to cross the plains to join her people and his people in the valley of the mountains. At least there was one pair of tender hands to allay, if nothing else, the loneliness in his dying hour.

Not the Man Nor His Works but the Time and the Place Almost Forgotten

The great Apostle was laid to rest in this public cemetery on May 14, 1857. This cemetery, covering more than an acre of land, for many years was encroached upon by various owners of the surrounding land and turned back to cultivation –obliterating many of the graves. However, there was a section containing the grave of Parley and the grave of an infant of Zealey Wynn which had not been disturbed. Together with these there were some other graves unmolested. The Wynn child’s grave was the only one in the cemetery marked with a white marble slab. Parley’s grave was marked with a sandstone slab, unchanged from it’s original shape when selected and was a likeness to the country of South America. It was from this stone and the near proximity to the grave of the Wynn child’s stone that it was positively identified by a man who was reared in sight of the cemetery and lived there until a grown man.

Pratt Family Interested

The late Bro._____Giles who had married into the Pratt family visited the writer to discuss the possibility of purchasing the cemetery from the individual who owned the land. After having made two or three trips to the place it was learned that the purchase could be made. Considerable credit should be given Sister Mary Pratt Parrish of Bountiful, Utah for her interest in the discovery of the grave and her enthusiasm for having the place properly marked.

The Place Purchased by the Pratt Family: A Monument Erected

After the Pratt family had secured title to the place a fund was raised and a fitting monument erected upon which, in addition to the necessary historical information, is engraved a perfect memorial to the super intelligence of this Heaven-Inspired Man —

“The Morning Breaks, the Shadow Flee—-“


Interesting Interim Incidentals in the Search
for the Grave of Elder Parley Parker Pratt,
a Martyred Apostle in
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

By James M. Pope, Sr.

In the days just preceding the time at which the writer became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he was associated quite closely with an old brother who had lived in the state of Arkansas in the vicinity of Fort Smith, and Van Buren. He had operated a ferry on the Arkansas River and had met many people who had lived there for many years. This man was born around 1860 and came into the Church around the turn of the century. The story of the martyrdom of Elder Parley Parker Pratt was quite young at that time and was a topic of conversation quite frequently. We might add here that — If we don’t talk we will not be quoted — if we do we will be misquoted and so it was with this old brother — he had heard too many “misquotes.” More about this later.

Converts and Their Deep Interest

Many people who have reached maturity and have endeavored to grasp an understandable application of the teachings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, find themselves enveloped in a maze of new evidence never before dreamed of which grips them with such dynamic force that they are impelled into earnest research in order to gain the testimony that will add to the little spark that brought them to the greater light — the greater light which fills the aching void and satisfies the hungry soul.

Another Convert

In the category mentioned above was a man in the city of Stillwater, Oklahoma, an attorney-at-law. John W. Whipple was his name. President Elias S. Woodruff of the Central States Mission had decided to organize a branch of the Church at Stillwater having in mind John W. Whipple to preside over it. He had also decided to use the writer as one of the counselors, having been advised the writer was contemplating a move to Stillwater in order to live in a college town for the benefits his family of boys would realize from an educational standpoint. Another counselor chosen was Dr. Peter Nelson, an agricultural professor in the college. Thus the presidency of the Stillwater, Oklahoma branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was presided over by Peter, James and John.

A Big Day

To the two middle-aged converts and Dr. Nelson our first meeting in this capacity was a great day. Dr. Nelson was an immigrant from Sweden — a solid and devoted Latter-day Saint. The thoughts which ran through his mind after this meeting with two foundlings might well be of interest. At any rate we got along like brothers and the branch grew to considerable proportions and today is one of the wards in the Oklahoma City Stake.

Brother John Finds an Old Book

The first edition of the book Life and Travels of Parley P. Pratt was printed in 1874. The second edition was printed in 1888 and the third edition forty years later, 1938. Somewhere Brother John found a volume of one of the earlier editions which had no cover. He was having it rebound and mentioned it to me one day and the conversation drifted into the place of his martyrdom and place of burial. We were aware of the fact that it was in Arkansas — but where?

The Old Brother Who Had Gathered Too Many To-Quotes

The writer’s mind then turned to the thought that our old brother whom he knew so well back in the little oil field at DeNoya, Oklahoma, Brother James E. Scott, was sure to know exactly where all this took place. Writing to him and receiving an answer in the affirmative, we began talking of a trip, taking Brother Scott along, in an endeavor to locate the grave.

Arrangements were made — the date was set and when the time arrived we brought Brother Scott over from an early start which was on a Monday morning.

More Later about Too Many Mis-Quotes—Brother John Couldn’t Make the Trip

Brother John advised me on Sunday that he would be unable to make the trip because of a case he had coming up in court on Monday, but suggested that the trip be made without him.

Dear Old Brother Berry

The writer was in the employ of Brother Thomas N. Berry, a successful farmer, stock man, and oil operator. Brother Berry offered the use of his car and to pay all expenses on the trip. He also accompanied us on the trip and had an enjoyable experience.

We Arrived at Fort Smith

Upon our arrival at Fort Smith Brother Scott directed that we go to a place eight miles south of Fort Smith and in that vicinity we would be near the place where the martyrdom took place. Previously Brother Scott had advised the writer that Parley was murdered along a lonely road there and that a grave was dug at the cite of the crime and the body of Parley was placed in it and covered up without ceremony, deserted and unmarked.

We returned to Fort Smith and visited an old gentlemen whose name was Scott who had been a captain in the southern Confederacy. Mr. Scott was then ninety- four years old. It was quite unusual to hear from the lips of this old man — “I never heard of this man Pratt.”

Brother James E. Scott was at the end of his line of leads when he was unable to find, after many years of modernization and change, a place he could recognize as one he had ever seen before, as also unable to contact anyone in Fort Smith who could give us any leads which would take us to the place we wanted to find.

Brother Scott Goes Visiting

Realizing that he could be of no further help he suggested that we take him to the home of a cousin at Greenwood, a few miles south of Fort Smith. He remained there until our leave for home some days later.

A “Bare-footed Search”

The next day what might be called a door-to door inquiry to try to locate someone who remembered something about Parley P. Pratt. Most of that day was spent in knocking on doors. Dear old Brother Berry was quite feeble and unable to render physical assistance, but his moral support was at the top of the register.

Late that afternoon contact was made with two old ladies — sisters, living in an old mansion just one block from the main street in downtown Fort Smith. They had been newspaper correspondents for many years. Receiving from them a considerable amount of information about the whereabouts of the issue of the paper carrying the account of the Pratt case, it developed that the issue was in the State Capitol building with all the issues previous to 1860, also that the martyrdom occurred north of Van Buren, but the exact location they were unable to tell. This information indicated that a trip to Little Rock might be necessary, but another mission of questioning began in Van Buren.

Hugh Park, Editor of the “Press Argus,” the Van Buren Weekly Newspaper

Calling at the newspaper office and meeting the wife of the editor, it was learned that the editor was at home in bed, sick with the `flu.’ Learning the mission at hand Mrs. Park suggested that we go to her home and meet her husband. We met Mr. Hugh Park and found him feeling well enough to carry on an extensive conversation on the subject and seemed over enthusiastic about it which, to the writer, was quite encouraging. Calling for his wife’s brother and wife to come over he inquired of them if they would go with us on search for this grave. The final arrangement was the editors’s wife and her brother went. We first stopped in the little town of Alma, at the junction of U.S. highways 71 and 64. There we contacted an old lady who had been a girlhood sweetheart of a man living three miles north of Alma. She consented to go with us to the home of this old gentleman whom she was quite sure could tell us where this grave is located.

James Carrol Fine

Arriving at the farm home of Mr. James Carrol Fine we were greeted, welcomed and invited where we talked about the weather and maybe another thing or two. Then the lady from Alma, advised Mr. Fine as to the purpose of our visit. Mr. Fine frankly advised us that he knew where the grave was but just as frankly refused to tell us where it was.

“Almost Persuaded”—Then—

Mr. Fine proceeded to lay before us the feeling of the people of Crawford County, Arkansas toward the Mormon people, stating that the missionaries would go through the county and put their literature in the cracks of fence rails and yard posts, and that they had to keep a watch out for it to burn it in order to keep it out of the hands of their children.

He told us one incident taking place in his own life while he was a road overseer with a crew of men working the road within a hundred yards of the place where Parley was killed. He told them that they would have twenty-four hours to get out of the country or they would meet the same fate that “Old Pratt” met.

Feeling that we were too close to our goal to give up, and this old man now 81 years old and quite feeble, the writer felt that a treatment was due. That treatment turned into the successful achievement of our mission.

The “Fine’ Family

The writer was acquainted with several families by the name of Fine who lived in southern Missouri, and quite closely associated with one of these families. This subject intentionally raised brought instantaneous interest which developed into the total sum that the FINE family were true to their name — really fine people.

Ripe Time for Action

While in the spell brought on by fond memories of the great achievement of the FINES of the past, James Carrol Fine, old and feeble, one of the many Mormon haters said to his wife — “Mother — give me my coat, my hat and my cane — I’m going to show this man “old Pratt’s grave.”

We Go to the Old Abandoned Cemetery

We drove a short distance west and north, crossing 71 highway and approached the old burial place on the east side and at this point we were between the cemetery and the little log house cite (the house had burned down) which stood on a slope of the hill that continued down to a ravine some 100 yards away where there was a flowing spring of water, the name of it was and still is Fine Spring.

Leaving the car we walked about forty steps into a little patch of brush trees, the one small spot in the cemetery which had not been disturbed. Mr. Fine seemed puzzled at the condition of the place and indicated to me where the corner of the cemetery was when he was a boy of six which corner he passed daily one or more times with a brother as they would go to the old spring named for their father to carry water to the house for drinking and cooking purposes. He lived there with the family until he was about twenty years old.

Searching through the sandstones which were barely showing through the leaves he said “When you find it, it will be shaped like the map of south America.” On my knees, digging with my hands and praying silently I was trying to find that stone. Mr. Fine, standing with his came in his hand watching the operation. I was working on a rock which was about three feet from a group of white-oak saplings growing in a circle about four feet in diameter. About sixteen or more inches of the previously scarcely visible rock was now exposed. Suddenly Mr. Fine stepped forward and with a somewhat forceful physical gesture placed his cane on the top of the rock and said “That’s it — that is old man pratt’s grave, I have looked at it many times.” Then surveying the surroundings he remembered the baby of Zealey Wynn was buried a few feet from Parley’s grave.

Though scared, the old man had one experience which he related to me which was a comical experience growing out of the slave situation during the Civil War. Some time after the burial of Parley some one or more built a rail pen around the grave. It was about five years after the death of Parley, this pen still there, that one day little Jimmie Fine and an older brother were going to the spring for some water. As they were passing the corner of the cemetery which he had previously indicated to me something happened which sent them back to the house and little Jimmie hid under the bed and listened to his brother tell with abated breath what they saw “old Pratt” as he “rizz up out of his grave and he come up a niger.” It seems to me that this one incident is evidence that in that early day often among enemies of the Mormon people there was one thing that remained with them — their teaching of the literal resurrection from the dead.

President Harold Pratt, Son of the Late Helaman Pratt

In this same year (1937) President Harold Pratt, after attending the October Conference in Salt Lake city, came to Stillwater, Oklahoma and requested the writer to accompany him and Sister Pratt to the grave of his grandfather. We were glad to accommodate and we were accompanied this time by President John W. Whipple. During the several hours drive President requested that the writer tell him in minute detail all the doings which transpired and all the discoveries which might or might not be known by the membership of the Church or the Pratt families in general. One thing absolutely certain is that there was a time when someone knew all the facts the writer was trying to discover, (or rather recover) I suppose.

We arrived in the community, visited the scene of the martyrdom, the place where he died and the place where Zealey Wynn’s blacksmith shop was located. We also visited the old road and the approximate place where Parley had left the road to try to escape his assassins, then last of all went to the cemetery to see the grave of his grandfather.

“Finn” Spring and “Fine” Spring

After a short visit at the grave and at the place where the little log house stood we moved further down the slope toward Fine spring. There President Pratt stopped and took a long look in silence of the landscape. Brother Whipple and Sister Pratt were engaged in conversation a few feet away. Standing a few feet away from President Pratt, he turned and came to me. He was quiet, solemn and seemingly impressed as he laid his arm around my shoulders and, somewhat apologetically said: “Brother Pope I have been a silent man all day. I suppose you have wondered why I didn’t talk or ask questions. Now I have something to tell you.” I cannot use his words in expressing to me his feelings concerning the details of our February expedition there, the circumstances, the unearthing of evidences supporting facts connected with the case, not knowing of any written record.

Through the years his voice has remained with me when he said: “Before leaving Salt Lake I went to the Church archives to see if I could find something about all this, I found a record written by Eleanor McLean which contains almost verbatim what I have heard from you today. “The Lord surely was with you in this righteous cause.”


James M. Pope Sr.
503 So. Pleasant St.
Independence, MO 64650


Return to Parley P. Pratt’s Grave