Parley Returns Home

April_2008_parley_p_prattThe Fort Smith, Arkansas Times Record has an interesting article: the descendants of Parley P. Pratt have obtained a judge’s order to exhume the Apostle’s remains and move them to a designated grave in Utah. The article — which is quite thorough, actually — goes on to describe Pratt’s death and the struggle to return him to Utah. We don’t talk about Parley too much, except to describe his missionary prowess or historical role. Perhaps it’s worth revisiting PPP’s accomplishments?

I think of PPP primarily as one of the great Mormon editors and writers of his day, in particular with respect to his work with The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star (no, not that one), and The Prophet (please let me know if it’s online somewhere for free). Much of the apologia and argument (and invective!) supporting the Restoration were established under his editorial reign. Parley was not shy, and his writing is not shy. He believe the Church to be the stone in Daniel’s vision, and believed the Millennium — and attendant ascendancy of the Church as world government — was imminent.

PPP’s contributions to the missionary effort cannot be underestimated. From that first mission to the Lamanites to subsequent missions in the UK, Europe, the Pacific islands and to South America, few Mormons have spent more of their lives or had more success in missionary labors.

I also recommend the reading of his autobiography. I am not sure as to the accuracy of his writings, but I can attest as to their interest — PPP was a great writer and his book does indeed capture the reader’s attention. I first read his autobiography on my mission and was absolutely riveted.

We speak far less of PPP’s doctrinal additions or social experiments. This may be for good reason — the Deseret Alphabet is an odd thing, and we turn relatively rarely to matters of spiritual communications, the eternity of matter, or of the plurality of Gods. Perhaps the return of Parley’s body to Salt Lake will spark a return to his writing and a re-analysis of the ideas that were coursing through him.


  1. This is great news; thanks for linking the article.

  2. I think that A Voice of Warning was arguably the most influential text, outside of the Bible and Joseph’s publicly circulating revelations, during the first half-century of the restoration.

  3. We also rarely speak of the circumstances surrounding his death!

  4. Ronan, what a way to go!

  5. …speaking specifically of books/tracts, that is.

  6. Brad, talk to us about Voice of Warning — I know it was influential, but I am not sure as to its originality per se. What did it add?

  7. Ronan’s right that Parley’s death has been shrouded by the martyr’s mantle. But the devil is in the details and when they come to light it becomes a much more complicated task to construct him as a martyr, even for polygamy.

    I suspect that moving his body is in part an attempt to dissociate his death from the circumstances that led to it. But it also makes pilgrimages to his grave a lot easier for his multiple descendents.

  8. I think that A Voice of Warning was arguably the most influential text, outside of the Bible and Joseph’s publicly circulating revelations, during the first half-century of the restoration.

    Brad’s right on with this comment. It’s also worth noting that Terryl Givens and Matt Grow are working on a biography of PPP, to be published by Oxford University Press.

  9. I agree with Brad and Christopher. I’d say that A Voice of Warning was much more influential than Pratt’s editorials in the Millennial Star.

  10. Steve, I don’t think it was necessarily especially original. But it was very widely read among rank and file LDS, and was an important and valuable tool for missionary work even well into the territorial period.

  11. That is excellent news, Christopher. I wish someone would do a critical edition of his autobiography.

  12. In that case Christopher, it’s clear this exhumation is little more by those notorious hucksters Givens and Grow as a cheap publicity stunt!! I expect PPP’s remains to be paraded around SLC in a glass coffin, with copies of the biography handily available for sale.

  13. David, do we really look at PPP through a martyr’s mantle? I wouldn’t necessarily think of it in those terms. While PPP’s death was certainly dramatic — so much so that it eclipses much of his life — I don’t associate him with the concept of martyrdom. I agree that PPP suffered much for his faith — imprisonment, physical hardship, etc. — but I never saw his murder as a death for the cause.

  14. PPP can also be remembered for the hymn lyrics he penned:

    1 – The Morning Breaks,
    4 – Truth Eternal,
    13 – An Angel From on High,
    59 – Come, O Thou King of Kings,
    180 – Father In Heaven, We Do Believe,
    196 – Jesus Once of Humble Birth,
    238 – Behold Thy Sons and Daughters, Lord

  15. Rebecca, just so — those are outstanding hymns, each.

  16. Steve, I guess our experience is different then. Certainly, PPP has been seen as a martyr in the church historically. The ordinary Mormons that I associate with see him as a martyr. But I don’t know how widespread that is.

  17. I’m really struck by the photograph of him- he looks so vibrant and contemporary and, well, for lack of a better word, alive. It’s a little unsettling.

  18. David, J. also informs me of the same. I guess my experience is marginalized! As I remember, the first time I learned about how he died, the reply was, “he got stabbed and shot by the husband of a woman PPP had just taken as a plural wife.”

    My reply: “hooo boy.”

  19. he’s shot and stabbed and still has to live a few more hours? holy crap.

    also why is Utah his hometown? He didn’t even spend the bulk of his life there did he?

  20. Amri: You’re right that PPP spent very few years here in Utah. After the exodus, he spent several years away on missions, although he did spend some time in different parts of Utah Territory. That said, Utah is where his memorial community is (i.e., his descendents) and it’s more of a hometown than Arkansas ever was.

  21. Somewhat surprised (pleased?), due to recent events, that there was no mention in the article that PPP’s murder indirectly led to the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

  22. Steve, his contemporaries certainly saw him as a martyr, and he was a perfect example of early Mormon martyrology.

    As for his pamphlets, outsiders in the 1840s clearly saw him as a major voice for the movement, frequently citing them as canonical and mentioning missionaries using it in their public preaching.

  23. smb, I don’t doubt that he contemporaries saw him that way. I was just describing my own coming to awareness about PPP’s death. It’s cool if people want to view that as martrydom; I view it as a domestic dispute gone horribly awry.

  24. As for his pamphlets, outsiders in the 1840s clearly saw him as a major voice for the movement, frequently citing them as canonical and mentioning missionaries using it in their public preaching.

    John Taylor borrowed from PPP quite liberally in many of the tracts and pamphlets he published while on his mission in the British Isles, sometimes attributing the borrowed paragraphs/phrases/arguments, other times not.

  25. Kevin Barney says:

    If I were to take a poll in my ward, I’d be lucky if 10% had even heard the name Parley P. Pratt, much less knew anything about his death. So in that sense I think Steve’s right; I don’t see much inclination among contemporary saints (even those who know something about his death) to view it as a martyrdom. I know I don’t.

    I love his autobiography. Really cool stuff.

  26. Ben Pratt (aka mistaben) says:

    This is great news!

    Like Steve, I’ve never really considered g-g-g-grandpa Parley a martyr, though I agree that he was described in such terms at the time.

    David G. (#7), public relations has little, if anything, to do with the desire to move his body. It was simply his desire to be buried in Salt Lake City. See the Jared Pratt Family Association’s (slightly outdated) website.

    Also, I’m sure there are many Parley descendents in Utah, but there are nearly 20,000 of us, and my branch (through Parley’s son Helaman) considers Colonia Dublan and Colonia Juarez in Chihuahua, Mexico to be the ancestral home.

    Come on home, Parley!

  27. mistaben, you should trade notes with Greg Call, another Parleyite.

  28. If I were to take a poll in my ward, I’d be lucky if 10% had even heard the name Parley P. Pratt

    Really? Wow. I know you don’t live along the Wasatch Front, Kevin, but that still seems shocking to me. I would guess that most American Saints, unless they’re a convert within the past 1 or 2 years, would at least recognize the name.

  29. I think you’d get high rates of name recognition but fairly low rates of any actual knowledge about the man.

  30. Ben (#26): I’m aware of the Pratt family website, thanks. It’s a great resource.

    I think I was clear that I “suspect[ed]” that “in part” the decision to move Parley’s body was to dissociate him from the place, and the circumstances, of his death. I didn’t state it as fact or with any degree of certainty. But, assuming that the Pratt family is like other families of powerful people, there is always going to be an effort to shape how people remember him. Pratt’s image, like that of all historical figures, is going to mediated through the politics of memory. In fact, I know a Pratt descendant that has been working for several decades on a biography of Mary Ann Pratt (Parley’s second wife), but is hesitant to publish it out of fear of how the family will react. This descendant has been told explicitly that to do so would soil Parley’s memory. Pratt didn’t tell Mary Ann that he had been sealed polygamously to at least a few plural wives in Nauvoo. Sara Pratt, Orson’s wife, told Mary Ann and it led to Mary Ann divorcing him as well as to several years of estrangement between Parley and Orson.

    Anyway, if you don’t agree with my speculation, that’s fine. That’s all it was.

  31. Ben Pratt says:

    Steve (#27): Does Greg appear here oft?

    David (#30):

    Thanks. I knew even as I was typing that I was reacting a little defensively. Sorry!

    Your speculation makes a lot of sense, and I must admit that I don’t know Robert Grow or any other Jared Pratt Family Association bigwigs. For all I know they’re *really* looking for Spanish gold….

    About the Mary Ann Pratt biography: Wow! You can tell your friend that at least one Parley descendant (though not through Mary Ann) wants to see this book published.

  32. David (#30)
    Tell your friend that my wife (a Mary Ann Pratt descendent) would love to read it.

  33. Ardis Parshall says:

    David (#30)
    Tell your friend that LOTS of us who are not Pratt descendants would love to read it, too.

  34. (25)”If I were to take a poll in my ward, I’d be lucky if 10% had even heard the name Parley P. Pratt.”

    Not in my ward–we have a very active member who is a descendant of Parley Pratt. He’s been asked on at least a couple of occasions to speak on the subject.

    When I think of PPP I think of his enthusiastic reception of the BoM as depicted in “How Rare a Possession.” It was a pretty popular film back in the day.

    Our mission had an annual Parley P. Pratt day on Thanksgiving Friday where we attempted to (stay awake and) read the entire BoM in one day. I’m guessing most of the RMs from my mission remember who he is.

  35. Here is one of my favorite PPP passages, taken from the Preface to the Classics in Mormon Literature edition of his autobiography:

    During a lengthy voyage of sixty-four days on the ship Henry Kelsey, Elder Pratt found time to do some writing. One item of correspondence, a letter to his family, might be singled out, as its contents demonstrate his extraordinary sensitivity and is a sample of the finest quality of composition. He mused:

    “Just imagine sundown, twilight, the shades of evening, the curtains of the solitary night gathering in silent gloom and lone melancholy around a father who loves his home and its inmates; his fireside and the family altar! Behold him standing leaning over the vessel’s side as it glides over waters of the lone and boundless Pacific, gazing for hours in succession into the bosom of its dark abyss, or watching its white foam and sparkling spray! What are his thoughts? Can you divine them? Behold, he prays! For what does he pray? For every wife, for every child, for every near and dear friend he has on earth, he prays most earnestly! most fervently! He calls each by name over and over again, before the altar of remembrance. And when this is done for all on earth, he remembers those in Heaven; calls their names; communes with them in spirit; wonders how they are doing; whether they think of him. He calls to mind their acts and sufferings in life, their death, and the grave where sleeps their precious dust.”

  36. I am no expert on Elder Pratt’s life, but I sure have never seen him as a martyr, and I don’t think Church history texts portray him as such either (unless I have not been paying attention and missed something).

    As for the circumstances of his death, I seem to recall that his murderer was pretty well-recognized as a ne’er-do-well drunkard and wife beater, whose wife was fleeing from him and had divorced him. Somewhere in the story there is an Arkansas judge who ruled in the wife’s favor and urged Parley to take her and get out of town – which Parley did, but evidently not quickly enough. I think it is hard to find anything dark in the story.