Descendants of Mormon leader ID burial site, find no remains

Associated Press/April 23, 2008

Rudy, Arakansas - Descendants of an early Mormon leader who was killed in Arkansas 151 years ago say archaeologists found no "identifiable human remains" when they dug up his grave in an attempt to move his remains to Utah.

The descendants feel certain, however, that they located the grave where Parley Parker Pratt was buried after the estranged husband of the woman Pratt took as his 12th wife killed him. The four-day dig that ended Tuesday was intended to carry out Pratt's dying wish to be buried in Utah.

"We were digging in his grave but Parley's remains are now part of the soil of Arkansas," family spokesman Robert J. Grow said Wednesday. The Salt Lake City man, who attended the dig, said the family has done everything humanly possible to honor Pratt's request.

"The family initiated and pursued this effort knowing that with the passage of time, the shallowness of the grave, and the soil conditions, there was a possibility that no identifiable remains might be located," Grow said in an earlier statement to the news media. He said the grave will be reclosed and the site "will remain forever sacred to the family."

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.

During a mission in the Southeast, Pratt was hunted down by Californian Hector McLean, whose estranged wife married Pratt at time when polygamy was part of the Mormon faith.

Although an Arkansas judge had cleared Pratt of ruining McLean's marriage, McLean shot and stabbed the preacher to death outside Van Buren in western Arkansas. Pratt died May 13, 1857, and was buried in a local family's cemetery.

Grow said the exact location of the Pratt grave had been unclear because the Wynn Family Cemetery was mostly destroyed during the Civil War. Over the last century and a half, Pratt's descendants made numerous attempts to find the grave, purchased a plot for him in Salt Lake City Cemetery, and erected a monument in the 1950s in his memory near where he was buried in Arkansas.

New scientific tools, including radar and electromagnetic surveys, made it possible to locate his grave, Grow said. This month a judge granted the descendants' request to exhume the remains on the condition that no other graves were disturbed.

Radar showed where graves were dug, but did not detect actual bodies. Grow said the equipment, along with historical accounts, made it obvious where Parley was buried and that he was placed in a single grave more than 50 feet away from others in the cemetery.

Saturday, archaeologists began digging slowly in the red clay plot now owned by the Mormons, just east of Interstate 540 near Rudy. They used small tools and carefully recorded their work. If their efforts had been successful, descendants intended to rebury Pratt in Salt Lake City where he would rest with two wives to his left and two wives to his right.

Pratt's descendants include former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor is Pratt's great-great-grandson.

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