Murky Waters Spin Around the New LDS Push for Transparency

By Sharon Lindbloom
18 April 2016

In recent years the LDS Church has been working to change its image of being an organization that tightly controls and artfully spins historical issues to its best advantage. In what has been called a “push for transparency,” the Mormon Church has published several essays online that reveal some of Mormonism’s sordid history, framed in an attempted “faith-promoting” context. But the Church’s “push for transparency” apparently does not reach to its monthly Ensign magazine.

Apr16EnsignIn the April 2016 issue of Ensign, Mormon Seventy Donald L. Hallstrom wrote about Mary Ann Pratt, a wife of early LDS apostle Parley Pratt. Mr. Hallstrom wrote in part,

“Mary Ann Pratt married Parley P. Pratt in 1837. Upon moving to Missouri, USA, along with other Saints, they endured horrific persecution. When Elder Pratt was taken, along with the Prophet Joseph Smith, by a mob in Far West, Missouri, and imprisoned, Mary Ann was confined to bed, gravely ill, while caring for two small children…

“After Parley’s release from jail, Mary Ann and her husband served missions to New York, USA, and to England and were among those who made ‘the final weary gathering to Utah,’ as she described it. Elder Pratt ultimately died a martyr’s death while serving another mission.” (“Jesus Christ: Our Firm Foundation“)

This narrative of Mary Ann and Parley Pratt’s life together is far from “transparent.” Let’s look at some of the spin employed in this story.

Mr. Hallstrom states that Parley was “taken by a mob” in Far West Missouri. In truth, Parley surrendered to state-appointed military troops as part of peace negotiations during the Mormon War in Missouri. The negotiations were initiated by Mormon Colonel George Hinkle; the surrender of Parley and others into militia custody as a term of truce was decided by Joseph Smith himself. Officially charged with “treason, murder, burglary, arson, robbery, and larceny” (Brandon G. Kinney, The Mormon War, 179), extenuating circumstances notwithstanding, Parley was hardly “taken by a mob.”

Mr. Hallstrom states that Parley was imprisoned for a time, and later “release[d] from jail.” In truth, the Mormon prisoners were never “released from jail.” After months of legal wrangling, changes of venue, prison transfers, and two failed jail-break attempts,

“Hyrum offered the sheriff and his men some honey-sweetened whiskey he had bought. Joseph Smith offered the sheriff $800 to take a nap and allow the Mormons to take their horses. It was enough…Joseph Smith and the other prisoners galloped away…and then made all speed for Illinois.” (Kinney, 186)

Mr. Hallstrom states that Mary Ann and Parley “were among those who made ‘the final weary gathering to Utah.’” This gives the impression that Mary Ann and Parley went to Utah together, a committed married couple. In truth, Mary Ann became estranged from Parley in 1846 when she learned about Parley’s numerous secret plural wives. While Parley went on to Utah in 1847, Mary Ann and her children went east to Maine, where she remained for several years. In September of 1852 Mary Ann finally arrived in Utah where she obtained a formal divorce from Parley in March of 1853. Mary Ann lived out the rest of her life in Utah as an unmarried woman.

Finally, Mr. Hallstrom states that Parley Pratt “ultimately died a martyr’s death while serving another mission.” In truth, Parley Pratt was murdered by an outraged husband and father by the name of Hector McLean. Here’s what happened:

McLean’s wife, Eleanor, had abandoned her family to become Pratt’s 12th plural wife. Soon thereafter, in 1857, McLean learned that Eleanor and Parley were intending to abduct the McLean children and take them to Utah. After finding no help in this situation from the legal system, McLean and his friends took matters into their own hands — tracking, attacking, and brutally murdering Parley in Arkansas.

Pratt was killed because he had taken another man’s wife for himself and intended to take this man’s children as well. While Parley’s murder was reprehensible, did he die “a martyr’s death”? Let the reader decide.

In a short video on the LDS Church’s website, Church historian Stephen E. Snow speaks to people about “historical questions.” He says, “We want [members] to be able to go to a place where they can read accurate information…” Based on the historical spin found in Mormon Seventy Donald Hallstrom’s article, the Church’s official Ensign magazine is not that kind of place.