Monday, January 30, 2017

Apostle Parley P. Pratt suffered a violent death at the hands of a cuckold

The murder of Mormon apostle Parley P. Pratt, slain by the husband of a woman Pratt had taken as a plural wife, was national news in 1857.

Hector McLean chased Pratt across much of the country before catching him and killing the LDS leader in Arkansas. The small Mormon media defended Pratt, pointing out that McLean was a drunk and wife-beater long estranged from his wife. However, defenders of Pratt also, not surprisingly, criticized the motives of murderer Hector McLean, who was never legally punished. The strongest published condemnation of McLean came from the wife who abandoned him for Pratt, Eleanor McComb Pratt. Her argument, shared by others, was that to kill Pratt, or to spend a long time seeking Pratt and finally murdering him, was the work of a brutal, godless man consumed by thoughts of revenge, hate and killing.

There is a certain irony to the Utah Mormons’ outrage over Pratt’s murder by the cuckold McLean, though. Through the latter half of the 19th century in Utah, cuckolds who murdered seducers of wives were routinely found not guilty of murder, and in fact applauded by the Utah media. Historian Kenneth L. Cannon II has written an interesting history “Mountain Common Law: The Extralegal Punishment of Seducers in early Utah,” published in the fall 1983 issue of Utah Historical Quarterly. Two early cases researched by Cannon are noteworthy. In 1851, Manti resident Madison Hambleton discovered his wife was having an affair with Dr. John Vaughan. After learning of the affair, one Sunday Hambleton spent hours at his Mormon church meetings, then sought out Dr. Vaughan, and then shot and killed him. He immediately surrendered and was taken to Great Salt Lake City. At the court of inquiry, Hambleton was represented by Mormon prophet Brigham Young! Writes Cannon, “The supreme court of the territory heard the case and acquitted Hambleton. Those in attendance enthusiastically voiced their approval of the court decision.”

Defenders of Hambleton may have argued that he killed Vaughan in a fit of passion upon learning of the adultery. I have no idea if that is true but it was an argument for adultery-related murders of that era. However, a more publicized case of a cuckold murdering a seducer could not claim “heat of passion” as a defense. Also in 1851, Mormon leader Howard Egan, returning to the Salt Lake Valley after guiding gold miners to California, discovered his first of three wives, Tamson, had been unfaithful with a man named James Monroe. Indeed, Tamson had given birth to a child by Monroe. Monroe, aware that Egan would want to kill him, fled the area. Egan pursued Monroe, and around the territorial border, found him with a wagon train and killed him. As Cannon recounts, a church investigation cleared Egan. At his civil trial, “Egan’s defense was handled by W.W. Phelps, a prominent Mormon, and George A. Smith, a Mormon apostle.”

During final arguments, Smith’s words are important, as Cannon writes, “they display the sentiments of Mormon Utah society at the time.” Smith was blunt and to the point. Criticizing English law, that applied only civil damages to adultery, Smith said, “The principle, the only one, that beats and throbs through the hearts of the entire inhabitants of this territory, is simply this: The man who seduces his neighbor’s wife must die, and her nearest relative must kill him!” It took the jury only 15 minutes to acquit Egan of a murder, that not unlike McLean’s of Pratt, was clearly premeditated.

Later in his article, Cannon posits that acquittals of cases where men killed seducers of their wives and daughters may have been grounded in efforts to protect wives, mothers and daughters from seducers in rural areas. Also, it’s likely many Utah territory residents were dissatisfied with penalties for seductions, which ranged from one to 20 years, plus fines, for a crime that was difficult to prove. Cannon notes that there was no evidence that Egan’s wife, Tamson, resisted Monroe’s sexual advances. Utah Mormons, Cannon adds, heavily publicized the Egan murder case, perhaps as a warning for outsiders to stay away from Mormon women?

Back to the Pratt murder by McLean. Patrick Q. Mason, writing in the excellent book of essays, “Parley P. Pratt and the Making of Mormonism,” 2011, The Arthur H. Clark Company, notes the power of cultural context of “honor.” Honor “is a communally constructed characteristic, as opposed to virtue or integrity.” As a result, a father or husband lost his “honor” among the community if a wife or daughter was seduced. Legal remedies might imprison or fine the seducer, but they did nothing to restore honor to the father of cuckold.

To regain honor, the offended man had to murder the seducer. That law doomed Pratt, no matter his religious motivations or the evidence that McLean was a brutal, drunken wife-beater. As the Hambleton and Egan cases show, Utah shared traits of the honor’s cultural context.

Utah’s commitment to “mountain common law” would last for decades, long after Pratt’s similar murder in 1857. As mentioned, the media usually agreed with the harsh punishment. After the seducer of a restaurant owner’s daughter was shot by father William Hughes, the Deseret Evening News published this approbation, writes Cannon: “… Public opinion in these mountains declares that a man who seduces a woman ought to pay the penalty with his life; and her nearest kindred should bring him to account.”

“Mountain common law” as a legal remedy was first challenged by the anti-Mormon Salt Lake Tribune, probably due more to antipathy to the church than a real commitment to legal reform. However, as Utah, and the LDS Church leadership, sought better relations with the “gentile” world, mountain common law, as in other parts of the nation, started a slow, consistent fade legally.

By 1888, the Utah Supreme Court reject the arguments of a cuckold convicted of killing his wife’s seducer because the killer, Wilford H. Halliday, had waited 24 hours before murdering the seducer. The “Egan rule” no longer applied.

          Posts are authored by Doug Gibson. Cartoon is by Cal Grondahl. This post and cartoon was originally published on the now-defunct StandardBlogs website from The Standard-Examiner website, which this post is credited to.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Mormon Reformation included the highs, and lows, of religious fervor

The most interesting bits of news I garnered from one conference long ago was not news of a temple in Provo or disapproval at calling ourselves “Mormons.” It was the now-late Apostle Boyd K. Packer assuring young members of the LDS church that the second coming of Jesus Christ is a long time coming. 

That’s a big shift from the early years of 19th century Mormonism, where blessings that promised recipients that they would witness the second coming of Jesus Christ were not uncommon.  The church Joseph Smith initiated was pure millennialist.  I recall my father telling me that I would likely see Christ’s return and – remembering that fondly – I’ve mentioned the same to my children.

One bit of history that underscored the Christ’s-return-is-near doctrine of the 19th century LDS church was the Mormon reformation of the middle 1850s in Utah.  What began as an effort to re-energize the spirituality of Utah saints via “home missions” to members degenerated into harsh denunciations of local church leaders, blood atonement speeches, and accusations of adultery, fanaticism from guilt-obsessed members, and finally, a counter-productive surge of interest in polygamy.  It took the untimely death of a fire-breathing apostle to allow future church leader Wilford Woodruff to cool the Mormon Reformation down.

As Thomas G. Alexander recounts in the Summer 1992 Dialogue article, “Wilford Woodruff and the Mormon Reformation of 1855-57,” by 1855 the LDS prophet Brigham Young and other church leaders worried that “many Church members and leaders had fallen spiritually asleep, becoming more enamored of materialism and other trappings of Babylon than building the kingdom.” Besides Young, apostles Heber C. Kimball and Jedediah Grant preached that recent crop failures were punishment from God directed at the Saints. In the 1855 October general conference, Young proposed home missions – designed to bring members back to reactivity – rather than prostlyting to Utah non-members. The effort, Alexander explains, also broke with the church tradition of local congregations enjoying autonomy in many decisions. Instead, apostles were sent to direct the home missions effort.

By March 1856, Young realized that the home missions efforts had failed. At that point, Young, with the enthusiastic support of Kimball and Grant, decided to go “fire and brimstone” on Utah members.

Efforts to bring the Saints back to repentance evolved into fierce denunciation of church members as “working wickedness” by church leaders as they fanned out through the Utah territory.  Young preached in September 1856 espousing the now-discredited doctrine of blood atonement, which denied Christ’s atonement for certain sins. Other apostles, particularly Grant, preached the same during the reformation. As Alexander relates, it’s assumed that the murder of the Parrish family and some friends in Springville, Utah, in 1857 was in part due to local members’ diehard belief in the blood atonement doctrine that had been stressed. No one was ever punished for murdering the victims, who had apostatized and were seeking to leave Springville.

As is the case with many fundamentalist-type purges, the arts also suffered. Apostles Grant and Kimball dissolved the Polysophical Society, an arts and humanities appreciation group that met at the home of future church president Lorenzo Snow. In fact, apostles Woodruff, Amasa Lyman, and Parley P. Pratt, as well as poet and lyricist Eliza Snow were members. However, according to Alexander, Grant described the society as “a stink in my nostrils” and “filled with an adulterous spirit,” writes Alexander. The Polysophical Society was no more.

Church leaders during the Mormon Reformation accused members and lesser leaders of adultery and demanded their repentance. Again, Grant was a particularly enthusiastic accuser. However, even Woodruff, a far more milder man, joined in these attacks. The most prominent charge of adultery was leveled at several presidents of the First Council of the Seventy on Oct. 7, 1856, in the old Salt Lake Tabernacle. After a rancorous meeting, the presidents were urged by Woodruff to “repent”. Later, a prominent bishop, Abraham Hoagland, came under condemnation for his efforts to assist and serve non-members. Woodruff told Hoagland, writes Alexander, that “sending priesthood holders to them ‘was like casting pearls before swine.’” Although Hoagland defended himself for a while, he soon repented.

The unexpected death of Grant on Dec. 1, 1856 was the beginning of the end of the extreme stage of the Mormon reformation. Woodruff, who assumed greater responsibility from Young, moved the reformation into a third phase, which stressed love and forgiveness, writes Alexander. The emphasis turned to pleas for personal improvement, rather than severe denunciations and unfounded charges of adultery. Members were urged to better themselves before preaching to other members. A series of rebaptisms that indicted renewed covenants occurred.

Nevertheless, as Alexander writes, the effects of the fundamentalist, accusatory phase of the reformation took a while to ease. One effect was an increase in members wanting to enter polygamy. This was not necessarily a positive for church leaders, who were aware that increases in polygamy tended to up the divorce rate. Indeed, as Alexander accounts, “…the 65 percent increase in the new plural marriages during the Reformation led to a subsequent escalation in the divorce rate…” However, even Woodruff was caught up in the plural marriage rage. He married a plural wife during the reformation and even offered his 14-year-old daughter to Young, who prudently refused Woodruff’s offer. Alexander also writes of Young’s denying “Old Father Allred” permission to marry three girls, ages 12 and 13.”

The reformation probably did prepare the saints to unite against outside adversaries. By the mid-1850’s, it was clear that the federal government would soon be a part of Utah life, and for 35-plus years the LDS Church would face the threat the termination at the hands of the feds. Gentiles, and by extension the feds, were a target to call wicked.

Also, as Alexander writes, the church was successful, with the final emphasis on renewed love and charity, to bring members back to executive authority.

Posts are authored by Doug Gibson. Cartoon is by Cal Grondahl. This post and cartoon was originally published on the now-defunct StandardBlogs website from The Standard-Examiner website, which this post is credited to.