Monday, March 22, 2010

Parley P. Pratt Grave Site - Alma, Arkansas

With the exception of John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, perhaps the most widely reported episode leading up to the War Between the States was the U.S. Army's campaign against the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah.

Called the Mormon or Utah War, the anti-climactic campaign involved key officers of the U.S. Army and consisted of a long and difficult march across the Great Plains to Utah, where President Franklin Buchanan had come to believe that Brigham Young and his followers were spoiling for a war with the United States. The LDS Church members had organized a large militia force, a small portion of which was involved in one of the most tragic incidents of the 19th century.

At a place called Mountain Meadows in Southern Utah, a small force of militia joined with local Native American warriors to attack and massacre a large party of emigrants who were making their way from Arkansas to California. After suffering through an ambush and siege, the members of the Baker-Fancher wagon train were convinced to surrender on September 11, 1857. Every adult and teen in the party was then slaughtered without mercy. At least 120 died.

It has never been conclusively proved, but many researchers believe that the massacre was instigated in part by an incident that took place in Crawford County, Arkansas, in 1857. Parley P. Pratt, a key leader of the LDS Church and member of its Council of Twelve Apostles was brutally murdered by Hector McLean and six other men on the Wynn farm near present-day Alma.

McLean was the estranged husband of one of Pratt's twelve wives, a woman named Eleanor McLean. Pratt had been arrested near Fort Gibson in the Cherokee Nation after McLean swore out a writ against him, accusing him of theft. The items allegedly stolen were the clothes being worn by Eleanor's children. Brought to Van Buren, he appeared in court and was released. Realizing that McLean was hard on his trail, Pratt hoped to avoid violence by riding alone north into the Boston Mountains and then hitting a road back into the Cherokee Nation.

Instead, he was cornered just off today's Interstate 540 by McLean and six of his followers. Without arms to defend himself, the LDS apostle was stabbed and shot. He died about two and one-half hours later. He was buried on the Wynn farm, where the grave site is marked today by a stone memorial. His murder has been listed by some writers as one of the reasons LDS Church members in southern Utah took it upon themselves to slaughter the Arkansas emigrants.

To learn more about the assassination of Parley P. Pratt and his grave site near Alma, please visit


Polly Aird said...

You have done a wonderful and accurate job of describing what happened in Utah and about the death of Parley P. Pratt. Congratulations.

Greg said...

For more information regarding Parley P. Pratt, see the forthcoming book, Parley P. Pratt and the Making of Mormonism, about one of Mormonism’s most influential leaders.

Parley P. Pratt joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1830 and was murdered near Alma in 1857 by the estranged husband of his twelfth plural wife. An original member of the Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Pratt played a key leadership role for the Mormons. His writings, including poetry, apologetics, and an autobiography, helped define Mormon theology and identity, and his hymns remain popular today.

Arguably Mormonism’s most influential early leader after Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, Pratt is also one of its least understood. This collection uses Pratt’s life and writings as a means for gaining insight on early Latter-day Saint history, including the development of a unique theology, family dynamics, and the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

The contributors, two of whom are Crawford County residents, examine Pratt’s political and religious struggles, and situate his murder within competing narratives of religious martyrdom and sexual deviance, Victorian domestic ideals and domestic abuse.

Because Pratt was killed in Arkansas, the massacre of Arkansas emigrants at Mountain Meadows in Utah has long been viewed as vengeance for his death. This collection shows that view to be oversimplified.

Dale Cox said...

Greg, I look forward to reading the book. My personal view on the Pratt murder's role in the Mountain Meadow tragedy is that it was one of a number of contributing factors. I personally don't think it was a primary cause of the massacre, but undoubtedly did play a part in the general flow of events then sweeping Utah.


buffalobaroness said...

The revenge reasoning is only a theory and a pretty shaky one at that. Having family that witnessed these tragic events I must say that my belief in the reason for the attack on those innocent people was pure and simple greed. It was a well known fact that the party was traveling with a generous amount of money / gold. This was taken and it is sad to see others who would rather protect the church than finally let the simple truth be known. This tragic act will never go away and it is definitely a dark spot on the church but trying to justify it or lie to make it seem less horrific is wrong and shows nothing but lack of remorse to those who lost loved ones. Own it, repent, ask for forgiveness, make ammends and move on.