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The book version of James Gammell's life story is now available. Click on this image.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Leaving Texas

Trails West
Map by Frederick Smoot

Brigham Young called James Gammell on a mission to Texas in September 1856, and gave him a specific assignment:  he was to remain “until he got all the Mormons in Texas out to Utah.”  The three-month journey across the plains gave James plenty of time to consider how he might accomplish such a daunting task.  As soon as he arrived in Texas, he went to work locating the new Mormon converts and compiling a list of their names.  Since land was cheap, he advised them not to try to sell their farms,(1) but to keep them and sell everything else, including any slaves, and to invest the money “in young cattle, adding them to the cattle they already had.”  He “assured them they could sell their cattle in Utah at a price that would make more for them than they could make in Texas in three years.”  Supposedly, he also informed them that if they didn’t like Utah once they arrived, they could sell everything, except the teams required to take them back to Texas.  He instructed them to sell, buy, and barter to acquire just the outfit that he advised for the journey to Great Salt Lake City.  For the next few months, he continued to visit them and to give them directions.  By May 1857, “he had them all on the road.”(2)

On March 4, 1857, James left his brother William’s home in Houston, accompanied by Eleanor Pratt(3) and her two children, his brother-in-law Captain Andrews,(4) and a Mr. Stanfield [or Standifird?].  He traveled to Ellis County, Texas, (south of present-day Dallas), where the Mormon emigration group was fitting out for a trip across the plains.(5)  Homer Duncan, presiding elder of the Texas conference, was assigned as captain of the company of Texas Saints.  The group started the trip to Salt Lake Valley in May 1857.  Besides the animals used for drawing the wagons, the company brought with them over thirteen hundred head of cattle.  “They trailed their herd northward up the Old Shawnee Trail across the Red River past Preston.  Reaching Fort Gibson in Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma, they trailed northeastward on the Old Military Road to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas Territory [on the Missouri River.]”(6)

Near Fort Leavenworth, James crossed the river to Independence, Missouri, which was, at the time, a hotbed of hatred towards Mormons.  There he encountered an anti-Mormon mob led by W.M.F. Magraw.(7)  Magraw was particularly angry because he had just lost his federal contract for the Salt Lake City mail delivery to a group of Mormons.  Elder John Taylor recorded the story of the mob assault and James’ narrow escape:

At Independence, Mo., brother James Gammell, who was with a company of Texians on their way to the valley, was mobbed by a band of ruffians in front of the public square, at the instance of Mr. Magraw, the former mail contractor, who told him “if he was not gone in fifteen minutes he should hang on that tree,” pointing to one in the vicinity.  Gammell immediately fled, as he saw a number of ruffians armed with revolvers; they followed him on foot and on horseback, firing at him as he ran; by leaping fences he, however, evaded them, although he had as many as fifty shots fired at him; he afterwards swam the Missouri River, and escaped, and is now with us.(8)

John Henry Standifird, a new Mormon convert traveling with the Homer Duncan Company of Texas Saints, wrote in his diary that in March 1857 he started overland to Missouri and was also threatened by the mob at Independence:

[I] Fell in company with some Latter-day Saints who were emegrating (sic) to Utah.  I investigated their doctrines and was baptized by William C. Moody and 20 miles west or southwest of Independence, confirmed by Homer Duncan on June 14.  The next day [I] started with the Saints for Utah where I arrived 9 September 1857…Thro the unwise course of Sister Pratt in publishing me as having assisted her with means, the mob were looking for me; but thro the overruling hand of God their eyes were blinded so that the mob did not recognize me and I escaped their clutches.(9)

The mob had also threatened Elder Erastus Snow, prompting John Taylor to enlist a group of brethren to guard them:

In consequence of this and other appearances of hostility, we selected a guard of our own brethren who have accompanied us to this place [Elm Creek].  We expected here to join the mail en route for Utah, but the river is impassable, and we can only correspond through the medium of two or three good swimmers.  We were informed that this said Mr. Magraw is superintendent for the construction of the military road, and acting as government agent on said road; that twenty men were going on as an advance surveying party, and that about one hundred were to follow them.  Brother Gammell says that some of those in the advance party were the men who fired at him; but as he is preparing a statement of the affair, and will forward it with the next mail, I must leave this matter with him.(10)

Sidetracked by his narrow escape from the mob and his swim across the Missouri River, James became separated from his Texas wagon company.  He was fortunate, though, to meet up in Nebraska with John Taylor and Erastus Snow’s twelve-man company, headed back to Salt Lake City.  John Taylor kept a detailed trail journal, and we are fortunate to have a record of his personal insights into James’ personality.   After recording some of the interesting events of James' early life, John Taylor noted that "he [James] seems to have possessed a strong predilection to put the world right."   Taylor must have been amused that Gammell was more concerned about the horses he lost than he was about his own life:

[James] joined the Mormons at Salt Lake—was there what is termed a Winter Mormon: but as he has wintered and summered seven years, he calls himself a regular out and out Mormon.  He is a pretty decent, thorough going fellow, goes it strongly for equal rights, complains bitterly of McGraw taking his horses, and seems to think more of them than of being shot at by him and his ruffians in Independence.  My private opinion, from the twinkle of his eye, when speaking on the subject is, that it would not be very good for McGraw’s health to meet him on equal grounds.  He is now acting as outrider, hunter and assistant cook…(11)

John Taylor’s letter, written at Elm Creek, Nebraska, indicates that James was on the trail about midway through Nebraska by July 9, 1857.  On July 21, Ira Hinckley(12) recorded in his diary that James spent the night at Horseshoe Creek, a Mormon way station, located west of Fort Laramie, Wyoming, on the pioneer trail:

In the morning Brothers J Taylor Er Snow W. Martindail J Gamell come up About 2 P.M. making there way to GSL City to get out of the way of there Enimiys.  They staid till 9 A.M. I sent them on to Dear Creek in [?} crags with [?] 2 more men 5 horses. they spoke to us [?} few minutes give us good instructions they blessed us and went on thare way rejoysing.(13)

The John Taylor and Erastus Snow wagon company arrived in Salt Lake City on August 7,(14) but apparently James and another man named Stewart had parted with the rest of the company at the Green River cutoff on August 2.(15)  Walker reported years later that at Green River James “got aboard the stage coach and went into the city to see the wives and babies.” (16) James must have arrived home sometime between August 7 and September 10.  His original Texas Company, trailing a huge herd of cattle, arrived a month later.  Part of the company, led by William Moody, arrived in Salt Lake City on September 14, and Homer Duncan’s group on September 20.(17)

John Henry Standifird, who arrived in Salt Lake City on September 9, 1857, reportedly saw James Gammell on September 10:

I, J.H. Standifird, walked into Salt Lake City, Utah without any money in my pocket, put up at S. L. Hotel on the 10th met Jim Gammel who took me to his home where I remained several days, then I went to Bountiful and worked on the Bountiful Tabernacle as Carpenter until the latter part of the month (Sept) when with other men we were sent east to Fort Bridger to hedge up the way of U.S. troops from coming into S.L. City until the U.S. could investigate the situation in Utah which they did in the Spring of 1858.  I was in Lott Smith Co. of raiders on government trains of Supplies. 3 trains were destroyed by fire.(18)

James’ joyful homecoming didn’t last long; dark clouds loomed on the horizon.  On August 18, Brothers Richards and Stringham, traveling in one of the last wagon companies of the season, reported passing two companies of government supply wagons loaded with freight for the federal troops, and headed for Salt Lake City.  The military march to Utah Territory was conducted under great secrecy, without any official advance notice to Territorial Governor Brigham Young.(19)  This period of Mormon history became known as (President James) Buchanan’s Blunder or the Utah War.
  1. Land could be purchased from territory of Texas at $1 an acre on a ten-year payment plan at low interest.
  2. Joseph C. Walker, History of the Mormons in the Early Days of Utah, pp. 53-56.
  3. Because she knew that her estranged husband, Hector, was in pursuit of her, Eleanor decided to travel from Ellis County with a non-Mormon named Mr. Clark, and his wife and children.
  4. Captain James B. Andrews was married to James’ sister, Margaret Jane.
  5. Steven Pratt, p. 235.
  6. Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel, 1847–1868, narrative of Homer Duncan Company (1857).
  7. It is possible that Magraw may also have been one of Hector McLean’s henchmen, since he specifically targeted James Gammell.
  8. Taylor, John, “Editorial Correspondence from the Plains,” The Mormon, 8 August 1857, 3. (Written at Elm Creek, 15 miles above Fort Kearney, Nebraska, on July 9, 1857.)
  9. Diary of John Henry. See Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel, 1847-1868, Trail excerpts.
  10. Taylor, John, “Editorial Correspondence from the Plains,” The Mormon, 8 August 1857, 3. (Written at Elm Creek, 15 miles above Fort Kearney, Nebraska, on July 9, 1857.)
  11. Scott, Stuart, Australasian Canadian Studies, Vol 25, No. 2, 2007, p. 77. (Quoted from John Taylor, “Mormon Life on the Plains—On the way to Utah,” New York Times, September 30, 1857.)
  12. Hinckley was a blacksmith at the Horseshoe Creek, Wyoming station from May-July 1857.
  13. Ira Nathaniel Hinckley Diary, 1857 Mar-1858 June, (MS 13687), Church Archives. (See description of the stations on the trail in Great Basin Kingdom, by Arrington, p. 168.)
  14. Orson F. Whitney, History of Utah, Vol. 4, p. 83.
  15. Scott, Stuart, Australasian Canadian Studies, Vol 25, No. 2, 2007, p.77. (Quoted from George John Taylor’s diary.)
  16. Walker, Joseph C., manuscript “History of the Mormons,” p. 53-56.
  17. “Immigration,” Deseret News (Weekly), 16 Sep 1857, 224; and 23 Sep 1857, 229.
  18. John Henry Standifird Papers, 1857-1909.
  19. Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel, 1847-1868, S.W. Richards and Briant Stringam, trail excerpt, Aug. 18, 1857.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Murder of Parley P. Pratt

Apostle Parley P. Pratt was a prominent and towering figure in 19th century Mormonism.  His accomplishments as a theologian, missionary, author, poet, and historian were unparalleled.   He endeared himself to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout the world as a prophet, seer, and revelator.
Several of Pratt's poems were set to music.  The hymn “The Morning Breaks” remains a favorite among Mormons today. Click on the following link to hear the hymn sung by the world renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir:

The morning breaks, the shadows flee;
Lo, Zion's standard is unfurled!
The dawning of a brighter day,
Majestic rises on the world.

The clouds of error disappear
Before the rays of truth divine;
The glory bursting from afar,
Wide o'er the nations soon will shine.

The Gentile fulness now comes in,
And Israel's blessings are at hand.
Lo, Judah's remnant, cleansed from sin,
Shall in their promised Canaan stand.

Jehovah speaks! Let earth give ear,
And Gentile nations turn and live.
His mighty arm is making bare,
His cov'nant people to receive.

Angels from heav'n and truth from earth
Have met, and both have record borne;
Thus Zion's light is bursting forth,
To bring her ransomed children home.

Text: Parley P. Pratt, 1807-1857
Music: George Careless, 1839-1932

When Parley P. Pratt left Salt Lake City on a mission to the eastern States, his wife Eleanor accompanied him as far as St. Louis.  From there she made her way to her father’s home in New Orleans to reclaim her children and take them to Utah.  James Gammell, one of twenty missionaries traveling in the Pratt wagon train, helped Eleanor arrange lodging for her return trip to Salt Lake City the next spring.  This simple act of kindness drew James into a series of events that endangered his life, as well as Eleanor’s, and ended in the tragic death of Parley P. Pratt.  The beloved Mormon apostle was murdered near Van Buren, Arkansas,(1) on May 13, 1857, around the same time James was preparing to leave Texas.  The story involves Eleanor and her estranged husband Hector McLean, the man who killed Parley.

Hector and Eleanor McLean were married in 1841 near New Orleans.  Soon afterwards Hector started drinking heavily, and they separated.  The couple reunited and later moved to San Francisco with their three children, hoping for a fresh start.  While living in San Francisco they were introduced to Mormonism.  Eleanor soon expressed a desire to join the Church, but Hector not only forbade it, he threatened to kill her and the minister who baptized her, if she did.  Eleanor continued to attend meetings, and with Hector’s written permission, she was baptized in May 1854.(2)  Later, after Eleanor had taken their two oldest children to be baptized, Hector put all three children on a ship bound for New Orleans to live with their grandparents.  It wasn’t until that evening that he informed Eleanor, “Now they are where you and the cursed Mormons can never see them again!”  Hector then locked her in her room for several hours, and she cried inconsolably. Two weeks later Hector finally allowed her to leave and join the children in New Orleans.(3)

Eleanor spent three months at her father’s home in New Orleans, but was unable to gain his permission to take her children away.  She finally decided to travel to Salt Lake City alone and hoped to regain the children after she was established there.  At this point in time, having left Hector for good, Eleanor considered herself an unmarried woman, though she had not obtained a legal divorce.  Arriving in Salt Lake in September 1855, she visited the Pratt home and obtained a position as the schoolteacher to their children.  In November 1855 Eleanor became Parley’s plural wife in a ceremony performed by Brigham Young in the Endowment House.(4)

In September 1856, Eleanor traveled with Parley by wagon train across the plains via Fort Kearney, arriving in St. Louis on November 18th.(5)  Records show that “Bro. James Gemmel”, also part of the Pratt wagon company, arrived at St. Louis at the same time.(6)  From there Eleanor traveled on a Mississippi River boat to New Orleans.  After spending a week at her father’s home, she escaped, taking her two youngest children without her father’s permission, and boarded a steamer bound for Galveston, Texas, on December 18.  From there she and the children traveled via the steamer Captain Pierce to Harrisburg, Texas, where they stayed the night in a hotel owned by James Gammell’s brother-in-law, Captain James Andrews.(7)  The next morning Andrews took them to the home of James’ brother William Gammell in Houston.  Eleanor wrote that she and her children were treated very well:(8)

Two miles from Houston we found a home at the house of Mr. William Gambell (sic), who is a man of no religion, lives well, has plenty of servants, and no children.  His wife [Jane] was like mother to us.  The three first weeks I made a change of clothing, and then sought for something to do.  Found employment in a dress-making establishment, Mrs. Stanbury’s, where I worked five weeks, spending two days with my children, Sunday to rest, and Monday to wash and mend.  On the 4th of March I left Houston with Captain Andrews, Mr. Stanfield, and James Gammel (sic) (the latter being a Mormon Elder), to journey to Ellis County, where the Mormon emigration was fitting out for a trip across the plains.(9)

While still in Houston, Eleanor had received a letter informing her that Hector was in pursuit of her.  As a result she decided to travel instead with a non-Mormon named Mr. Clark, and his wife and children, in a “poor wagon and three yoke of good oxen.”  Hector McLean found them anyway on the trail just west of Arkansas.(10)

McLean was relentless in his search for Pratt.  From December 1856 to March 1857, Parley visited various eastern states, and much of the time Hector McLean was not far behind.  Hector managed to learn about Parley’s itinerary from Mormon apostates, and to enlist the help of the police to search the homes of the Saints.  He nearly caught up with Parley in St. Louis.  Parley knew of the approaching danger, and for several months he managed to elude McLean.  By May, McLean determined that both Parley and Eleanor were on their way west.  At Fort Gibson he filed a formal charge against Eleanor, "a charge of larceny of clothing belonging to Albert and Annie McLean [his two children] to the amount of ten dollars.”  The names Parley P. Pratt, James Gammell, and Elias J. Gammell,(11) appeared on the same charge.  Finally, on May 6 an armed military escort approached Parley on the trail near Fort Gibson.  The captain rode up to Parley and said, “Parley P. Pratt, I arrest you in the name of the United States of America.”(12)  On the same day Hector and his friends caught up with Eleanor’s wagon and took the children.  The marshal arrested Eleanor three hours later.  The prisoners were taken to Fort Gibson and then on to the courthouse in Van Buren, Arkansas.  After questioning her, the judge dismissed all charges against Eleanor.

At the trial Hector McLean was allowed to read the charges and to state all his grievances against Pratt, successfully stirring up the crowd of five hundred spectators against the defendant.  When Parley stood to answer the charges, McLean pulled out his pistol and aimed it at Parley’s head.  The officers stopped him from firing, and the judge postponed the trial till later that afternoon.  Parley was locked in jail for his own protection, and the angry crowd returned to the courthouse well before the appointed time of four o’clock.  The judge postponed the trial again, this time until the next morning.  This second postponement was only an effort to deceive McLean.  The judge had already decided to acquit Pratt and to release him as soon as it was safe to do so.(13)  Very early the next morning, Wednesday, May 13, Parley was released:

…Judge Ogden brought Parley’s horse to him at the jail.  He released Parley, put him on his horse and offered him his knife and pistol, but Parley refused by saying, “Gentlemen, I do not rely on weapons of that kind, my trust is in my God.  Good-bye Gentlemen.”  He rode off in a southerly direction .(14)

When Hector came back to Van Buren for the morning trial and learned that Parley had escaped, he and two other men “mounted their horses and started in pursuit.”  They caught up with him about twelve miles away near the Winn farm.  McLean fired his pistol six times but missed.  He then rode up close to Parley and stabbed him twice in the chest.  Parley fell to the ground motionless.  The three men rode off, but Hector came back ten minutes later, got off his horse, and shot Parley in the neck.  Mr. Winn had witnessed the entire episode and thought that Parley was dead.  Winn raced off for help and when he returned with a few neighbors an hour later, Parley was still alive.  Parley asked for a drink of water and told them his name.  He requested that they notify his family at Salt Lake City, Utah Territory, and send them his gold watch and personal effects, and finally that they ask a Mormon wagon train to take his body back to Utah.  Parley bore his dying testimony to the men who comforted him in his final hour: “I die a firm believer in the Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith, and I wish you to carry this my dying testimony. I know that the Gospel is true and that Joseph Smith was a prophet of the living God, I am dying a martyr to the faith.”(15)

Monument near Parley P. Pratt's grave.
Inscription includes his poem
"The Morning Breaks."
Photo by Reed Russell, March 2011.
When Eleanor learned that Parley was dead, “she asked Marshal Hays if she and George Higginson (Parley’s missionary companion) might go prepare the body for burial.”  At the Winn farmhouse they found the body lying on a board.  Mr. Winn took them to the scene of the murder.  He told them that Parley had died from the loss of blood about two hours after being attacked.  From Winn’s examination of the body and clothing, he learned that Parley had “six bullet holes around the skirt of his coat and two knife marks in the front.”  A knife that penetrated directly to the heart inflicted the fatal wound.  At the farmhouse Winn had already washed the body and prepared clean clothing.  George and the marshal dressed the body, and “Eleanor wrapped it from head to foot in white linen.”  Higginson placed Parley’s body in a white pine box, and late that night (May 14), under cover of darkness, buried him in an unmarked grave.(16)
P. P. Pratt monument, Alma, Arkansas
Photo by Reed Russell, March 2011.

The tragic death of Elder Pratt was not the end of the ordeal.  Eleanor Pratt and James Gammell still had reason to fear for their lives.
  1. Van Buren is located in the northwest corner of Arkansas near Fort Smith and the Oklahoma border.
  2. Pratt, Steven, “Eleanor McLean and the Murder of Parley P. Pratt,” BYU Studies, 1975, Vol. 15, No. 2, pp. 225-228.
  3. Pratt, Steven, pp. 228-231.
  4. Pratt, Steven, pp. 232-234.
  5. Pratt, Steven, p. 234.
  6. Erastus Snow’s letter to Brigham Young. (Church History Library, CR1234/1, Box 42, Folder 16.
  7. James’ sister, Margaret Jane Gammell, married James B. Andrews on September 18, 1837, in Lowell, Massachusetts
  8. Steven Pratt, pp. 234-5.
  9. Eleanor J. McLean (Pratt), letter to the Van Buren [Arkansas] Intelligencer, May 18, 1857, published in The Latter-Day Saints’ Millennial Star, Liverpool, July 4, 1857.
  10. Steven Pratt, p. 235.
  11. Elias J. Gammell has not been identified as part of the Gammell family. (Perhaps McLean made a mistake.)
  12. Steven Pratt, pp. 238-9.
  13. Steven Pratt, p. 245.
  14. Steven Pratt, p. 245.
  15. Steven Pratt, pp. 246-48.
  16. Steven Pratt, pp. 48-49.