In May 1857, a jilted husband found the man who had taken his wife and children. After tracking him to western Arkansas, he organized a posse to cut off his escape, followed him into a thicket of trees, pulled him from his horse, and stabbed him repeatedly near his heart. Hector McLean left to fetch a gun, returned, and shot Mormon apostle Parley P. Pratt in the neck.
Terryl Givens and Matt Grow's new The Apostle Paul of Mormonism tells the often dramatic story of Pratt's tumultuous fifty years. Shortly after deciding to become a Campbellite minister, Pratt encountered the Book of Mormon, read it, and believed. As the title suggests, the authors emphasize Pratt's missionary travels and writings. In the nineteenth century, Mormons leaders often recommended Pratt's 1837 Voice of Warning to inquirers as an introduction to the Mormon faith. As they follow Pratt across the
The book has many virtues. For a co-authored book, the narrative is seamless, though one can appreciate Givens's typically lucid exposition of the early evolution of Mormon theology. I am also impressed with their discussion of Parley's experience with plural marriage. Over the past fifteen years of Pratt's life, polygamy brought repeated bouts of estrangement and conflict. For instance, the widowed Pratt's second wife Mary Ann ultimately chose to be sealed by proxy to Joseph Smith for eternity in the
Those looking for an entry point into Mormon History for themselves or their students should give this volume serious consideration. Pratt stands alongside Joseph Smith as a formative influence on key developments within Mormon theology, and he is at the center of struggles between "Many Mormonisms" (as the authors put it) after Smith's 1844 murder. The authors also took the care (and expense) to obtain a series of very helpful maps to accompany the narrative.
I've long found the furor over Pratt's murder fascinating. His murder sparked a mixture of outrage (mostly in
I hardly think Pratt deserved to be stabbed and shot for his marriage to Eleanor McLean, who saw in Mormonism (among other things) a way to escape from an abusive marriage. But it's not surprising that many Americans concluded that Pratt deserved his bloody fate. "[A] man ought to be ashamed of himself," the Nauvoo Neighbor had quipped in 1843, "to run away with another man's wife, when there are so many maiden ladies with their trunks all packed ready for a start!" Mormon apostle George A. Smith had argued that "mountain common law" gave husbands the moral right to kill men who slept with their wives. The Utah territorial legislature codified such justifiable homicides in 1852 when it provided immunity for husbands to kill "in a sudden heat of passion caused by the attempt of any such offender to commit a rape upon his wife, daughter, sister, mother, or other female relation or dependent ... or when the defilement has actually been committed." In