Arkansas Judge says remains of early Mormon leader can be moved to Utah

VAN BUREN, Ark. -- The remains of an early Mormon leader murdered 151 years ago in Arkansas can be 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 to remove the remains from a Mormon-owned cemetery near Rudy 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. Grow said Pratt will have two wives to his left and two wives to his right in the Salt Lake City Cemetery and the reburial will help close a chapter in the family's history. Pratt's descendants include former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor is Pratt's great-great-grandson. Crawford County Circuit Judge Gary Cottrell said Wednesday 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. "The problem here is you'd be asking me to possibly disinter bodies that weren't kin to you," the judge told Grow. "The question is are you able to disinter others to which you are not kin? I don't want multiple disinterments." 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. Records show the other bodies nearby are probably children. Grow will have to get a disinterment permit from the Arkansas Department of Health. Department spokesman Ed Barham said those permits are issued to a licensed funeral director and usually take a couple of days. Putnam Funeral Home of Fort Smith is helping the descendants, and the descendants plan to have archaeologists dig up the body later this month. Pratt's descendants hope to also identify the body on the basis of stab wounds on chest bones and gunshot wounds. Pratt is honored in Salt Lake City with a statue at the corner of 2300 East and Parleys Way, 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. Pratt was chosen by Joseph Smith as one of the first Mormon apostles. A religious writer and missionary, he also counseled Brigham Young. While on a mission to the Southern states, he 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 by the 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 murder 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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