Question: Was Parley P. Pratt murdered because he stole another man's wife?

FairMormon Answers Wiki Table of Contents

Question: Was Parley P. Pratt murdered because he stole another man's wife?

Parley Pratt is accused of being sealed to Eleanor Mclean without her having divorced her husband

Pratt’s last wife, Eleanor, “was sealed to him without divorcing her legal husband, who fatally shot Parley near Van Buren, Arkansas” (p. 333). There is, however, much that we are not told. Eleanor’s husband was a heavy drinker, which in 1844 resulted in separation. The couple was reconciled, and the family moved to San Francisco. While in California, Eleanor discovered the church. Her husband forbade her to join and “purchased a sword cane and threatened to kill her and the minister who baptized her if she became a Mormon.” [1]

It is therefore claimed by critics of Mormonism that Parley P. Pratt's practice of polygamy was responsible for his murder, partly because he married a woman who hadn't been divorced from her first husband.

  • Was Parley P. Pratt building a "harem" of wives?
  • Did Parley P. Pratt "induce" another man's wife to join the Church simply so that he could add her as a polygamous wife?

Eleanor's husband Hector physically abused her

Eleanor attended LDS meetings, and one Sunday at home, “while Eleanor was singing from a Mormon hymn book she had purchased, Hector tore the book from her hands, threw it into the fire, beat her, cast her out into the street, and locked the door.” [2]

Eleanor declared herself divorced from Hector

Eleanor lodged a complaint of assault and battery against Hector and planned to leave him until prevailed upon by local church members and her physician. At that point, said Eleanor, “I presume McLean himself would not deny that I then declared that I would no more be his wife however many years I might be compelled to appear as such for the sake of my children". [3]

Eleanor was not baptized until 1854, and she had the written permission of her husband to do so. However, he forbade her to read church literature or to sing church hymns at home. It is not clear, then, why G. D. Smith feels Eleanor owed an observance of all the twentieth-century legal niceties to a violent, abusive, tyrannical drunkard. Through it all, as a church leader, Parley Pratt had tried to help the couple reconcile.

Eleanor's husband Hector erupts over baptism of children and tries to have her declared insane

Eleanor had her children baptized, and Hector responded by filing a charge of insanity against his wife so he could have her committed to an asylum. Hector sent her children by steamer to their maternal grandparents’ home, confined Eleanor to the house, and again threatened to have her committed for insanity. Eleanor eventually found her children at her parents’ home, but they refused to let her take them. [4] Eleanor went to Salt Lake City and married Pratt on 14 November 1855. As we have seen, she considered herself divorced from Hector from the time he violently threw her from their home in San Francisco. They never received a civil divorce, however.

Nineteenth century marriages did not always end in a formal divorce

It is assumed that nineteenth century marriages always ended in a formal divorce. They did not--this was often impossible. From which authority, exactly, would G. D. Smith prefer that Eleanor receive a divorce? She was in Utah; Hector was in San Francisco. He had abused, beaten, confined, and threatened to institutionalize her. As we have seen, notions of divorce were also more fluid in the mid-nineteenth century, especially on the frontier. It is unlikely that most contemporaries would have insisted that Eleanor required a formal divorce.

After Eleanor married Parley, Hector pursued and shot him six times and stabbed him twice

Pratt was arrested on trumped-up charges, freed by a non-Mormon judge, and pursued by Hector, who shot the unarmed apostle six times and stabbed him twice. He was left to bleed to death over the course of two hours. [5] In G. D. Smith’s worldview, are men like Hector entitled to hold women emotionally or martially hostage, civil divorce or no? One suspects not. But in his zeal to condemn the church, he does not provide his readers with the facts necessary to understand the Pratts’ choices.


  1. Steven Pratt, “Eleanor Mclean and the Murder of Parley P. Pratt,” BYU Studies (Winter 1975): 226.
  2. Steven Pratt, “Eleanor Mclean and the Murder of Parley P. Pratt,” 226.
  3. Pratt, “Eleanor Mclean and the Murder of Parley P. Pratt,” 226, emphasis in original, citing Millennial Star 19:432. (italics in original)
  4. Pratt, “Eleanor Mclean and the Murder of Parley P. Pratt,” 228–31.
  5. Pratt, “Eleanor Mclean and the Murder of Parley P. Pratt,” 241–48.