Early Mormon Leader's Disinterment OK'd

Associated Press/April 3, 2008

Van Buren, Arkansas - The remains of an early Mormon leader killed 151 years ago in Arkansas can be disinterred and moved to Utah for burial as long as other burial sites are not disturbed, a judge has ruled.

A descendant of Parley Parker Pratt, an original member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was granted a petition Wednesday to remove Pratt's remains from a Mormon-owned cemetery near Rudy in western Arkansas for burial at Salt Lake City Cemetery.

One of Pratt's dying wishes was for his body to be returned to Utah, said attorney Robert J. Grow of Salt Lake City, a great-great-great grandson of Pratt's. Grow said Pratt will have two wives to his left and two wives to his right and the reburial will help close a chapter in the family's history.

Pratt is honored in Salt Lake City with a statue on a road named for him. Below the statue are the names of his many wives and children. A park and a canyon also bear his first name. His descendants include former Massachusetts Gov. and onetime presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a great-great grandson.

Crawford County Circuit Judge Gary Cottrell said that because radar showed that three or four people are buried at the same site, Pratt's descendants must be sure to remove only Pratt's remains. Records show the other bodies nearby are probably children.

"The problem here is you'd be asking me to possibly disinter bodies that weren't kin to you," the judge told Grow.

Grow said he believed descendants know which body is Pratt's. A granite monument was erected in 1951 to mark the property.

"If it's not Parley, we certainly don't want to move anybody else," Grow told the judge.

Pratt's descendants plan to have archaeologists dig up the body later this month.

Pratt was chosen by church founder Joseph Smith as one of the first Mormon apostles. A religious writer and missionary, he also counseled Brigham Young.

While on a mission in the South, Pratt was accused by Californian Hector McLean in a lawsuit of causing estrangement in McLean's marriage. Eleanor McLean became Pratt's 12th wife.

Although Pratt was exonerated in court, McLean and two accomplices pursued Pratt to Alma, where they fired at and stabbed him. Pratt died May 13, 1857.

Some historians believe Pratt's killing led to the Mountain Meadows Massacre in Utah of some 200 Arkansas pioneers on their way to California. But most scholars discount the connection, said Jan Shipps, professor emeritus of history and religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis.

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