Orson Pratt – 1800’s
Orson Pratt was my great grandfather. Although I am not Mormon (LDS), Orson was one of the first Apostles of the LDS Church. He was born in 1811 and died in 1881. When he died, he was the last member of the LDS Church’s Quorum of the Twelve who had been an original member of the 1835 Quorum.
I suspect that all of the First Presidency of the LDS Church and also the Twelve Apostles of Orson Pratt’s day lived plural marriage. It wasn’t just a few of them. I think they all did. And that, of course, included Orson Pratt, who is reported to have had 10 wives and 45 children. I descend from Mary Ann Merrill, who was Orson Pratt’s third wife. She died in 1903 and was buried in the Salt Lake City cemetery. Here is her headstone, together with Orson Pratt and 3 other sister wives:
I am one of the very few remaining 3rd generation descendants from Orson, so in terms of generational distance from Joseph Smith (the founder of the LDS Church) and his original Twelve Apostles, I and my siblings are probably closer generationally to those individuals than any person living today.
My Mother’s Family – Leaving Norway
My mother’s mother was Agnus Anderson, and she was from Norway and did not speak English when she came to the USA. When she was 17 years old, she became very sick and was admitted to the hospital in Norway. There was a wing of the hospital for patients that were believed to be terminal, and she was moved to that wing. We believe she was suffering from a burst appendix (severe appendicitis), and most people died from that in her day.
Before getting sick, she had heard some Mormon missionaries preaching, and was greatly influenced by their message. Then she got sick and ended up in the hospital. She became aware of her placement in the terminal wing of the hospital, and she prayed and told God that if He would spare her life, she would join the LDS Church and come to America.
I want to now say that I believe that all sincere prayers are heard, and they are all answered to the best good of the person praying. I want to also say that I believe that no organization has a monopoly on God, and He is no respecter of persons, just as Acts 10:34 says. In other words, I believe that God heard her prayers, and answered them.
The morning after this prayer, the doctors came in to check on her. They expected to see her dead, but she was very much alive, and appeared to be healthy. She was released from the hospital, and the first thing she did upon release is find those Mormon missionaries that she had previously met, and request to be baptized by them. They had to break the ice from the river to baptize her. Then, through the aid of the LDS Church’s “Perpetual Emigration Fund”, she boarded a boat and came to America, and traveled across America to the Salt Lake Valley, in Utah. She was a 17 year old girl, alone in a new country, and did not speak English. She fully depended on the LDS Church to help her through this period, and the Church helped her.
Shortly later she was at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City and she met Gustave Edward Berg. Gustave’s parents had similarly immigrated from Norway, in a virtually identical story to hers. But Gustave himself was born in Utah. Being born in the USA, Gustave spoke fluent English and Norwegian, while my grandmother still only spoke Norwegian. She was attracted to Gustave (for obvious reasons), and it did not take long before they were married.
If my grandmother had not come to the USA, if I was to be born through her at all I would most likely have been born in Norway. I am glad to be in the USA, so I feel I have been blessed by her coming to America, and I am glad she made that choice.
My father was Stanley Wallace Pratt, grandson of Orson Pratt. He was the 3rd of four children of his parents, Valton Merrill Pratt and Zina Estelle Jenkins. My father was born in 1901. He died in 1963 when I was five years old. I have memories of him, but not a lot. I do, however, have extensive information about him, left to me by my mother (who died in 1977 when I was 18 years old).
Dad married Agnes Josephine Berg in 1929, during the Great Depression (they later divorced). The Great Depression was the worst economic downturn in the history of the industrialized world, lasting from 1929 to 1939. Dad and Agnes’ six children were born in 1930, 1932, 1933, 1936, 1941 and 1943. This means four of their six children were born during the economic downturn of the Great Depression, and the other two were born during World War 2. This was a hard time to raise a family.
I do not know all of the reasons behind their divorce, but I know it was Agnes that initiated it. I also know that money issues are frequently cited as a common cause of divorce. And I know that most of their marriage was during the worst economic downturn in US history. Dad likely was not able to provide for Agnes and the family in the way that Agnes wished, or expected, or felt like she needed.
My father was active LDS until around the late 1930’s. As mentioned previously, the time period from when he got married in 1929 and through 1939 was the time of the worst economic downturn in US history. Many families were struggling, including my father’s. Families lived in tents, or boarded up chicken coops, or abandoned houses, and just struggled to survive.
During this time, my father observed the LDS Church continue to push members to pay 10% of their income to the church as “tithing”, regardless of their ability to pay. He saw many destitute families during the Great Depression, and saw the pressure that was put on them to pay that tithing. This eventually broke his mental shelf concerning the LDS Church, and he said “no more”.
My mother was born in 1918 and died in 1977. Mom’s birth name was Jennie Alvera Berg. She had a twin sister – Mae Viola Berg. Aside from her twin, she had two brothers and three sisters. They are now all passed away (the youngest passing away in 2004). They were all active LDS.
I am not sure, but I believe my mother met Charles Mattingly at school– probably High School. I don’t believe Charles Mattingly was LDS when he met my mother, but rather he joined the LDS church after meeting her. I could be wrong about that, though. What I do know is that they were later married in the LDS temple, and had six kids together. Then he died, leaving my mother a widow. I have not been able to find a marriage date for her and Charles Mattingly, but from stories my mother told me about Charles I know it was in the late 1930’s.
After Charles Mattingly died, my mother married my father, Stanley Wallace Pratt, and they had three more children. This means my mother had a total of nine children. I am the youngest of my mother’s children. Of the last three, I have one brother and one sister. Those two are my only full siblings.
My mother gave each of her last three children the same surname as the first six – Mattingly. That way all of her children had the same last name. But, as you can see, I am not a Mattingly. I am a Pratt.
I legally changed my surname to ‘Pratt’ when I was engaged to Denise.
My father died when I was 5 years old. Later my mother became very sick, as she discovered she had breast cancer. She died when I was 18 years old.
After my mother took sick, I worked long and hard as a young person to try and earn money for the family. I also worked almost every Sunday. My early years were characterized by almost no knowledge of the Bible, because I didn’t have time for that.
One day when I was 14 or 15 years old, I walked into the living room, and mom was watching TV. I paused and listened to the TV program. They were talking about the “Old Testament”. I turned to mom and asked, “mom, what is the Old Testament?”.
Mom just looked at me for a moment, then stood up and went into her bedroom. After a minute I followed, and I found her crying. I asked her what was the matter, and she said, “I have tried to be both a mother and a father to you, and I feel like I have failed at both”. Then she told me what the Old Testament is.
This moment changed me. I began to yearn for answers, and wanted to understand who God is and what I needed to do. I didn’t know exactly what to do, but a quote by LeGrand Richards (Apostle of the LDS Church) caught my eye at that time, where he distilled the question of Christianity down to Catholicism and Mormonism. While I do not agree with that distillation today, at the time I was a young impressionable boy, and I accepted it. So I decided to study. And since almost all of my Utah environment was “Mormon”, studies of Mormonism seemed the most expeditious, and the easiest to do first. This especially rang true to me in light of the fact that Orson Pratt, my great grandfather, was a prominent Mormon.
After my mother died in 1977, the best description of me in the late 1970’s is “shell shocked”. It was hard for me to do anything. My mother’s oldest son (and my half brother) took me in at that time and treated me like one of his kids. He once told me that during that time he was beginning to wonder if I would ever snap out of it. I was shell shocked, and just existing, and nothing much more.
As I began to come out of my shell shocked state, I continued my studies, and most of those studies were Mormon-based.
I dropped out of high school to take care of my mother during her final stages of cancer. Then I took the GED test to get into college. I attended college at Weber State, in Ogden, Utah, and graduated cum laude with a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science, and with minors in Mathematics and Electronics, in 1992.
While going to school I worked for the US Forest Service, at the Region 4 office in the Federal Building of downtown Ogden. For one summer I was transferred to the Wasatch-Cache office in the Federal Building of downtown Salt Lake City, and then transitioned back to Ogden.
My first job out of school was with Fidelity Investments, the largest mutual fund company in the USA. Fidelity is based out of Boston, Massachusetts. I was hired as a Computer Analyst, and worked for Fidelity for two years in their Salt Lake City office.
When I was engaged to be married to my wife, Denise, I told her “you can have any last name you want, and I will take any last name I want, but if you decide you want the last name of ‘Pratt’, I will legally change my name to that as well”.
Denise responded, “I do not want our children named after a man that you are not even related to” (that would be Charles Mattingly).
I replied, “I thought you might feel that way. I will change my last name to ‘Pratt’”.
So in early 1988 I filed a petition with the 2nd District Court of Weber County for a name change. The petition was granted in April of that year.
At the time I was working for the US Forest Service. I was frequently asked why I was changing my name, and I got tired of it. So I started telling the following lyric to anybody at work that asked:
If it weren’t for bad luck,
I’d have no luck at all…
I tried to change my luck,
but my luck just stayed the same…
And since I couldn’t change my luck,
I changed my name!
Because of Denise, I believe I am one of the most blessed people on earth.