Unearthing Parley P. Pratt — And Some (Interesting?) Questions

Let me begin by saying that Parley P. Pratt is my great-great-great grandfather. He is a man that my family and I honor very much, arguably one of the most consequential pioneers of the Restored Gospel. His Autobiography is one of my favorite books, and I feel somewhat of a close kinship with the man.

So, I’ve been casually following the story about the possibility of disinterring Pratt’s remains from Arkansas — and moving them to Utah. Just a run down for those who aren’t familiar: A group of Pratt’s descendants — led by great-great-great grandson Robert J. Grow, who is an attorney and the president of the Jared Pratt Family Association (Jared is Parley’s father) — have obtained permission to move Pratt’s remains from Arkansas (where he was murdered) to Salt Lake City (where Pratt allegedly wished to be buried), to be buried next to four of his wives. (Note: I am officially banning comments to this post regarding polygamy.) The disinterment was expected to be complicated, to ensure the remains were Pratt’s and to be certain that no one else was disinterred with him. This turned out to be true, and the latest development is that they are unable to find his remains (see this Deseret Morning News article for the latest). And, I’m not certain, but it looks like the group is not going to keep trying…?

Anyway, this interesting little story raises at least three (interesting? or perhaps totally trivial?) questions for me:

  1. Disinterment permission would not have been granted to anyone who is not a direct descendant. But Pratt has thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of direct descendants. What happens if descendant opinions differ? Now, I really don’t have any problem about the disinterment — living in Provo, it actually would be kind of nice to visit his grave; I have no plans of making a special trip to Arkansas in order to do so. I do understand that the request was part of an organized group, and apparently reflects Pratt’s own desire — but this issue got me thinking about this question anyway. It would be interesting to hear someone with some legal expertise comment on the issue of descendant rights. I’m suspicious that current laws might not be equipped to handle a controversial issue regarding someone with such an enormous host of descendants.
  2. You can probably guess what some of the commenters on the Deseret Morning News site are saying about the failure to find Pratt’s body. Could it be … he was resurrected? (Get ready to handle legends in Sunday School on this one, for years to come…!) Now, I think this speculation is rather silly, especially considering that not even the coffin was found. But regardless, it raises an interesting question for me that I realized I am not confident about. I have long had the assumption that no one in our generation (really, no one since perhaps certain church members in Jesus’ time) would be resurrected until the Second Coming. I think this assumption makes good sense to me, but can anyone speak more authoritatively on this?
  3. There is a biblical precedence for the disinterment of bones. I’m thinking particularly of Joseph’s bones being buried with his fathers. This makes good sense to me, but perhaps only on a superficial level (it’s a nice thought to be buried with loved ones, and it would be nice to be resurrected among them). Can anyone speak more on this tradition, perhaps from a Hebrew perspective?

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19 Responses

  1. Dennis, I still see a resemblance between you and your great, great, great grandpa. As much as I respect him, however, I think you are much cuter.

    There definitely is something similar about members of the Pratt family wanting the bones to be moved and how the Israelites carried around Joseph’s bones. They might both be ways of showing hope for what happens in the resurrection– reunion with families, when former places of bondage disintegrate, and we are essentially in the promised land. This makes sense in light of where Parley wanted his body to be. Carrying around the bones seems a particularly striking way of revealing the extreme kind of hope found in Christian faith. It is easy for us to say today, who cares about dry bones? There is nothing left there of the person (although, interestingly, they once made up the core of the person). The person wouldn’t care where they ended up (especially outside belief in the resurrection). Yet continuing to care about ancestors’ bones shows hope in the midst of something outwardly desolate and unreachable that life will be restored and that the dead still matter. I don’t know anything about the cultural beliefs about bones back then, though.

  2. “I think this assumption makes good sense to me, but can anyone speak more authoritatively on this?”

    Looking for authoritative statements in the bloggernacle. Good luck!

  3. [...] Dennis sure knows how to captivate the audience. A recent post was published on Unearthing Parley P. Pratt â [...]

  4. Hello cousin!

    I’m another great-great-great-grandson of Parley. The Jared Pratt Family Association website indicates there were almost 20,000 Parley descendants as of 2006. I agree with you; I doubt that current laws are equipped to deal with such enormous families.

    The link to the Deseret News article on the sideblog on bycommonconsent.com reads “Parley Pratt resurrected! or maybe a zombie? Either way, he’s r-u-n-n-o-f-t.” Yes, I thought it was funny, and I even called my parents with the news. I’m not about to claim that Parley is resurrected (or a zombie, for that matter), but I wouldn’t throw it out.

    I hadn’t considered Joseph of Egypt’s bones, but I find the precedent somehow comforting. Also, I seem to recall a legend in which the bones of Adam and Eve were on Noah’s ark for a similar purpose. Fun stuff.

  5. Candice,

    I’m not sure who is cuter, but I see the resemblance too. However, Doug doesn’t seem to have as much resemblance…

  6. I said in the post that I was uncertain whether the search for Parley’s bones was over.

    It appears that the answer is yes. In a recent AP article , Grow said “the grave will be reclosed and the site ‘will remain forever sacred to the family.’”

  7. interesting questions. i’ll have to do some digging (ha!) and get back to you.

  8. Speaking as another member of the large Pratt family, the process that was taken to get a consensus in the family was fairly significant. The Jared Pratt Family Association contacted thousands of Pratt family members last year in July, inviting them to come to the Pratt Family Reunion where the issue would be discussed. Those who could not attend were invited to send in their thoughts and suggestions. Maybe you were there Dennis?

    I sat in the meeting with hundreds of other descendants where the issue was presented. Then, everyone was invited to share their thoughts. It was interesting to see how a few people played “devil’s advocate” but at the end of the discussion, no one appeared to oppose moving forward. With a notary present, family members were invited to sign an affidavit. If memory serves me right, the Pratt family had tried to track down how many great-grandchildren were still alive–somewhere around 20. All 16 that could be found signed affidavit, supporting the action. I believe one of the news stories mentioned that nearly 200 other affidavits were signed by great-great-grandchildren, great-great-great grandchildren, and even some great-great-great-great grandchildren.

    It’s an interesting legal issue but apparently the judge was satisfied enough!

  9. The Church owns the site apparently, which is interesting (the official logotype is used at the site, which is not used for non-official purposes, subject to a copyright claim). I went by there not too long ago. Very pretty, very simple. It’s a fenced area with a large monument, a few benches, and what appear to be very well-maintained flowers. Aerial View: here.

  10. I’m also a descendant and have been involved somewhat in this effort. The legal question you raise is an interesting one. Arkansas law requires permission from the “next of kin.” Parley’s legal next-of-kin would be his great-grandchildren. The family organization had affidavits supporting their action from 16 of the 22 living great-grandchildren of Parley (I believe the others could not be located). The family organization also had affidavits from a few hundred other descendants supporting their request.

    I haven’t heard anyone close to the process claim that Parley has been resurrected. Strikes me as silly.

  11. Okay,

    Of course he was ressurrected. Well, even if they didn’t find the coffin, we can’t really address that at the moment.

    Thousands of years for ressurrection. I think not.
    Pratt’s own words in the Key to the Science of Theology and The Voice of Warning do show less time.

    In any event I will state with my own “authoritarian” doctrine that those who are righteous are excelled to great heights at death.

  12. Ben, D, and Matt (my cousins):

    Thanks for the info. I’ll have to look more into getting involved with the larger Pratt family. I’m pretty much out of the loop.

  13. i asked the 100 hour board (the fount of all knowledge) your question regarding a “hebrew perspective” on this issue, because i know one of the writers has a strong background in ancient middle eastern studies.

    a hundred years later, here’s what she had to say:

    “Many resources later, I’m pulling up dry here. There actually isn’t a whole lot of Hebrew tradition on this. Joseph is the only one I can think of off the top of my head. And really, he most likely was mummified. Thus, they wouldn’t have had to dig up his bones to move him. He probably had himself a nice little burial tomb that would have been simple to collect him from. Considering how much the Egyptians hated the Israelites at that time, moving Joseph was probably the safest thing for them to do. I’m sure the Egyptians weren’t a fan of having an Israelite in a burial place of honor. The Israelites may simply have been afraid of what the Egyptians would have done to the body of Joseph had they left it there. (Note: there is a large percentage of speculation here.)

    So… knowing nothing else about this so-called tradition… I can’t tell you any more than that. Sorry.”

    so there you go.

  14. Thanks for the inquiry, Jen. Too bad she doesn’t know more (or is more certain about what she does know…)

  15. ok, this is getting to be WAY old news by now, but here’s a follow-up response to my initial inquiry:

    “…There’s actually a huge amount of Hebrew custom involving the disinterment of bones. Frequently, after the body had decomposed the bones were dug up and placed in small boxes called “ossuaries”. Extensive writings in Talmudic literature (specifically Ebel Rabbati: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E…) discuss burial rules and traditions.

    The following article covers this (though not in depth), but also give some great references for further research in the bibliography: http://www.ucalgary.ca/~elsega… (Sorry that I didn’t have time to hunt down a better source, but his notations should do you well.)

    So, yup, lots of precedence, all a matter of tradition. Incidentally, it’s nice to be able to go to one spot to remember your family members than walking all over Israel on Memorial Day.

    In my opinion, this may have been started because Hebrew Law states bodies must be buried as soon as possible (no more than 2 nights after death). If you’re down visiting the fam in Jerusalem and die suddenly, they’re not going to have time to drag you all the way up to Bethlehem. But, wait some time, and when you’re no longer stinky and much smaller, tossing your bones in a box and bringing them back home is much simpler.

    Hope that helps!”

    so there you go. :)

  16. I have read extensively from early Church writers and the only two that show incredable and unique writing are PPPratt and John Taylor. As they were fast friends it is not suprising.

    Please tell me where I can obtain reprints of anything and everything available on Parly P. Pratt.

    Thank you,

    Bruce Cottam

  17. I recently found out about this movement of Parley P. Pratt. I to happen to be a triple great grand son. No one asked my opinion but I think they should have let him rest in peace where he had been laid to rest. Honestly what real purpose did this serve other then to put up a few headlines and a few pats on the backs for those involved. I find the whole issue to be a bit sad and fail to see any respect for the dead.

  18. What did Paly Pratt sa about the timming of resurrection in “the Key to the Science of Theology” and “The Voice of Warning”?

  19. Excuse me: I meant to ask what Parly P. Praatt said about the timing of the resurrection in “the Key to the Science of Theology” and “The Voice of Warning”?

    Does anyone know?

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