From his youth, Parley P. Pratt felt eternal stirrings – a sense of the spiritual and holy that he seemed to carry with him from another world. At seven years old, he loved Jesus and the ancient apostles. At twelve, he was intrigued by the doctrine of the Resurrection. At eighteen he wondered about the differences between the Lord’s ancient disciples and his modern followers.
I said to my father one day while we were laboring together in the forest, “Father, how is it there is so manifest a difference between the ancient and modern disciples of Jesus Christ and their doctrines? If, for instance, I had lived in the days of the Apostles, and believed in Jesus Christ, and had manifested a wish to become his disciple, Peter or his brethren would have said to me, ‘Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.’ I should then have known definitely and precisely what to do to be saved…
“Now, father, how is this? I believe in Jesus; I wish to serve him and keep his commandments; I love him: He has commanded all men to repent and be baptized, and has promised to remit the sins of all those who obey the gospel ordinances, and to pour out the Holy Spirit upon them.”
These thoughts nagged at Parley daily. He longed for the ancient teachings of the Savior. He sought after the precepts of the apostles. He felt compelled to find the pure doctrines and authority of the apostleship.
Why? From the vantage of the sweep of his life before us, the answer seems clear. Parley wondered about the apostles because he was to become one of them, chosen for this stewardship – as were Peter, James, and John of old – before the foundations of the world. The seed of his life’s mission had been planted in his eternal soul, and with the same urgency he felt to find out about the ancient apostles, he also felt to witness of the truth once he found it.
Eloquent Parley could not travel far enough or address enough people to satisfy the burning he had to share the truth. He was like Alma, who said, “O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people! Yea, I would declare unto every soul, as with the voice of thunder, repentance and the plan of redemption, that they should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth” (Alma 29:1-2).
Parley’s greatest desire was to let the whole world know that the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, with all the keys of the priesthood, had been restored to the earth in these latter days, and that Joseph Smith was the mighty prophet of the Restoration. To accomplish that desire, Parley was given a trump: the spoken and printed word. His autobiography is his way of continuing to call to the earth and to speak to every people.
Through this work, Parley shares his testimony with new generations, bringing to life the stories of the Restoration. He wrote, “Should the author be called to sacrifice his life for the cause of truth, yet he will have the consolation that it will be said of him as it was said of Abel: ‘He, being dead, yet speaketh.'”
The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt is invaluable in the study of the first thirty years of the history of the restored Church. It comes to us from a passionate writer in the spirit of truth and love. It comes from a bold individual who knew and loved the Prophet Joseph Smith.
From his earliest days, Parley had a desire to record his history. He knew he was a player on the stage of the early scenes of the Restoration, and he wanted to record his role for Church posterity. He had a sense that his voice would be carried well beyond his life and that his personal witness and testimony would bless millions yet unborn. He was full of faith.
He was gifted in communication, both in writing and in speaking. He was a visionary. He had a feel for legacy and heritage. His desires, whether he lived or died, were to bear testimony on this side of the veil through his words. He understood the power of a written record.
As most writers, Parley had a constant sense that he was working under a deadline. He knew that he would be taken early and that he must hurry to complete his history. He also knew that his history would not be published in his lifetime.
Parley once wrote of the Prophet Joseph:
Had he been spared a martyr’s fate till mature manhood and age, he was certainly endued with powers and ability to have revolutionized the world in many respects, and to have transmitted to posterity a name associated with more brilliant and glorious acts than has yet fallen to the lot of mortal. As it is, his works will live to endless ages, and unnumbered millions yet unborn will mention his name with honor, as a noble instrument in the hands of God, who, during his short and youthful career, laid the foundation of that kingdom spoken of by Daniel, the prophet, which should break in pieces all other kingdoms and stand forever.
It seems that Parley was not only extolling the virtues and power of Joseph but was humbly looking in the mirror. Parley’s autobiography has been in print for more than a hundred years and will continue to bless untold generations in and out of the Church and throughout the world.
A Deeper Look
Parley traveled by foot, horseback, or boat, always making his way another few hundred miles to the next destination to preach the gospel. He lived so close to the Spirit that he would, at times, be awakened from his rest by a voice from the unseen world: “‘Parley, it is time to be up and on your journey.‘ In the twinkling of an eye I was perfectly aroused; I sprang to my feet so suddenly that I could not at first recollect where I was, or what was before me to perform.” It didn’t matter where he was going; what mattered was his unfailing willingness to accept each and every call. He spent the vast majority of his twenty-seven years in the Church on missions.
Parley was swift as a deer physically and quick as lightning mentally. He called upon these abilities often in a variety of settings during his life. Once, upon escaping from captivity in Ohio, Parley gained a healthy head start on an astonished officer. The officer responded by sending a bulldog after Parley, methodically clapping his hands, pointing toward Parley, and yelling loudly, “Stu-boy, stu-boy – take him – watch – lay hold of him, I say – down with him.”
With the dog gaining on Parley’s heels, “quick as lightning, the thought struck me to assist the officer, in sending the dog with all fury to the forest a little distance before me. I pointed my finger in that direction, clapped my hands, and shouted in imitation of the officer. The dog hastened past me with redoubled speed towards the forest; being urged by the officer and myself, and both of us running in the same direction.”
Such clever thoughts were often Parley’s gift and helped him in debating, preaching, writing, and sharing humor.
Parley recorded many things that otherwise would be lost to history. Through his eyes we see the Prophet Joseph in chains in Richmond, Missouri:
In one of those tedious nights, we had lain as if in sleep till the hour of midnight had passed, and our ears and hearts had been pained, while we had listened for hours to the obscene jests, the horrid oaths, the dreadful blasphemies and filthy language of our guards, Colonel Price at their head, as they recounted to each other their deeds of rapine, murder, robbery, etc., which they had committed among the “Mormons” while at Far West and vicinity. They even boasted of defiling by force wives, daughters and virgins, and of shooting or dashing out the brains of men, women and children.Parley’s words and writings ring with the Spirit. His gifted descriptions of experiences are undergirded by a desire to testify of the truth of the Restoration. He never took for granted that he was one of the holders of the keys of the priesthood. Many times he called upon God in pure faith that he might be healed from a terrible ailment or siege of sickness that had swept over him. He was never without an answer from the Lord, though at times his answer was to learn more patience.
I had listened till I became so disgusted, shocked, horrified, and so filled with the spirit of indignant justice that I could scarcely refrain from rising upon my feet and rebuking the guards; but had said nothing to Joseph, or any one else, although I lay next to him and knew he was awake. On a sudden he arose to his feet, and spoke in a voice of thunder, or as the roaring lion, uttering, as near as I can recollect, the following words:
“SILENCE, ye fiends of the infernal pit. In the name of Jesus Christ I rebuke you, and command you to be still; I will not live another minute and bear such language. Cease such talk, or you or I die THIS INSTANT!”
He ceased to speak. He stood erect in terrible majesty. Chained, and without a weapon; calm, unruffled and dignified as an angel, he looked upon the quailing guards, whose weapons were lowered or dropped to the ground; whose knees smote together, and who, shrinking into a corner, or crouching at his feet, begged his pardon, and remained quiet till a change of guards.
I have seen the ministers of justice, clothed in magisterial robes, and criminals arraigned before them, while life was suspended on a breath, in the Courts of England; I have witnessed a Congress in solemn session to give laws to nations; I have tried to conceive of kings, of royal courts, of thrones and crowns; and of emperors assembled to decide the fate of kingdoms; but dignity and majesty have I seen but once, as it stood in chains, at midnight, in a dungeon in an obscure village of Missouri.
One of his wives, Ann Agatha Walker, said, “His confidence in God was unbounded and he would go to Him and ask Him for what he needed, as a child would go to the father, with the same childlike simplicity. I have seen his prayers answered almost before he had finished his supplication.”
[Stay with us as next week we conclude the introduction to The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, Revised and Enhanced Edition]
 See pages 10-11.
 Times and Seasons 3 (January 1, 1842): 648.
 See pages 45-46.
 See page 141.
 See page 55.
 See pages 262-63.
 See page 543.