Rey Lucero Pratt, Member of the First Council of
the Seventy from 1925 to 1931 and President of the Mexican Mission from
1907 to 1931, was born Oct. 11, 1878, in Salt Lake City, Utah, the son
of Helaman Pratt and Emmeline Victoria Billingsley. He was a grandson of
the legendary Parley P. Pratt.
His father, Helaman Pratt lived the fullness of the
Gospel as he understood it and thus fell under the illegal and unconscionable
persecutions suffered by those who practiced plural marriage. In an attempt
to preserve his family and save them from the tender mercies of the rapacious
territorial law of the day, Helaman took his family to Mexico. Rey went
with his parents to Mexico in October, 1887, and located in Juarez, where
he learned Spanish from the natives.
Thus at the age of nine, Rey became a pioneer. He
later spoke of "those things that I had to do as a boy, for I went into
a new land and had to make fences, build ditch, kill snakes, ride the cattle
range, and do many things that neither I nor my children are called upon
to do now." The Pratts were closer to the local Mexicans than many of the
other colonists were, and Rey learned to speak Spanish like a native. Perhaps
even more importantly, he also grew to understand the history and culture
of the Mexican people.
Rey married Mary (called May) Stark on August 8, 1900. Their marriage
was blessed by fourteen children, three of whom the Ancestral File indicates
are still (2000 AD) alive The young couple settled on a ranch outside Dublán,
isolated from the bustle of an industrializing world. They lived in a log
house under a big oak tree, cooked over a fireplace, raised beef and dairy
cattle, hunted deer and turkeys, and rode their ponies over the range together.
At the time of the mission call, they were making plans to expand their
herd and install an electric generator. For years they had dreamed of returning
to that idyllic setting when the mission was over, but that time never
He was called on a Mission to Mexico in 1906, and
in September, 1907, he became president of the Mexican Mission. Elder Pratt
spoke in the October 1913 general conference, and said this of revolution-ridden
Mexico showing at once the spirit in which he led the Mexican Mission through
its most critical quarter century and why his name is still linked inseparably
to the success of the Church in Latin America.
I enjoy my work [in Mexico]. True it is I have seen some horrible things
during my stay there. For months in the City of Mexico we awakened every morning to the
music of cannons. Day after day we saw houses and even people burning in the streets.
And yet I am ready to go back and stay as long as the servants of the Lord shall
When Elder Pratt was called to labor in the Mexican Mission in 1906,
he found it a small and struggling operation. It had been first opened
in 1879, just a month after he was born, but due to political problems
and a shortage of missionaries it had been closed down from 1889 to 1901.
During that period, the only contact southern Mexican converts had with
the Church was an occasional visitor from the Mormon colonies in
Chihuahua and Sonora, in the capital for some business reason. This obviously
was not sufficient guidance to support a young and essentially foreign
institution, and it deteriorated badly. Many of the Saints slipped away
from Church doctrines and practices, some whole branches falling into apostasy.
The Mexican Saints, most of them recent converts,
needed strength and continuity in their leadership -- a man in whom they
could place a complete trust. On 29 September 1907 they had their leader
when Rey Pratt was set apart as president of the mission. He was never
released. The choice was a wise one. Although Pratt was born in Salt Lake
City, he had grown up in Mexico. His father, Helaman Pratt, had been with
the epic 1875-76 expedition that explored and proselyted in Mexico, and
later he had served there as missionary and mission president. In 1887
the family was called to settle in Colonia Dublan, one of the LDS colonies
Well grounded in language, culture, and the goals
to be pursued, Pratt was the right man to lead the Mexican Mission through
the most turbulent years of that nation's history. The story of his presidency
is a succession of seemingly crushing difficulties which he had to overcome
that the mission might succeed. In the words of his daughter, "It just
seems like they were tried in fire such as you can't believe."
From the first, President Pratt was beset by knotty
organizational problems. In a unique and somewhat cumbersome arrangement,
the mission was set up under the Juárez Stake which was comprised
of the colonies in the North. At least until 1912 the members were considered
part of the stake, and the mission reported both to the stake presidency
and to the General Authorities of the Church.
There was also a question of authority, since Pratt
presided over the mission for four years as an elder. During this time
he ordained at least one seventy, Manuel C. Naegle, saying that, "my calling
as president gives me that authority." The procedure was irregular but
the ordination seems to have been accepted as valid by the Church.
Elder Ernest Young recalls from personal observation
that Pratt "visited the sick a good deal." Indeed, sickness harassed the
mission. Typhoid was common, two elders having died from it in the 1880s.
In 1904 Apostle Abraham O. Woodruff
and his wife, while visiting Mexico, both contracted smallpox and died.
Pratt's year-old daughter Mary came down with a severe case of smallpox
in 1909, but survived. His son, Carl Lee, survived scarlet fever in 1911,
but died of "intestinal infection" in 1925 when attending school in Mexico
City. Others had cases, some serious, of malaria, pneumonia, and influenza.
Pratt himself nearly died of typhoid in 1909, and was incapacitated for
several months. The next year he was down with appendicitis, then in 1913
In spite of these hindrances during its early years,
the mission continued to grow. The missionary force was increased, giving
President Pratt an office staff and allowing expansion into new areas.
Conversions accelerated, more than doubling the membership in his first
six years, and several new branches were organized.
The Mexican Revolution almost stalled Missionary
work in the Mission despite President Pratt's herculean efforts. Missionaries
who had completed their term of service were not replaced and by 1912 there
were nly twelve missionaries in the entire country.
In September 1913, with the Revolution nearing its
peak, there were over 1600 Latter-day Saints in Mexico, some 1150 of them
in the area of the capital. With a few scattered exceptions in the colonies,
these were "all natives and mostly Indians," without much leadership experience
of their own and without their shepherd.
That shepherd was like a tiger in a cage. At the
October general conference of the Church he said,
I have the spirit of that mission running through my veins to such
an extent that it is almost impossible for me to talk to the people here except I speak in regard to the Mexican Mission.
He affirmed that the day of the Mexican Indians had
come and that he was ready to go back and continue the work under any conditions.
At a meeting for mission presidents following the
close of conference Pratt offered to return to Mexico alone and do what
he could to hold the Church there together for the interim. The First Presidency
and the Council of the Twelve discussed the matter, decided that he should
not go back, and instructed him to guide the mission by correspondence
until the situation settled down. This he did, devoting himself almost
exclusively to the task for the next twenty months--sending letters of
encouragement and instruction to the Mexican Saints.
The reports he received were alternately heartening and distressing. The
Mexican Saints, along with many other people, often went hungry. Some were
reduced to scavenging in the streets and eating perhaps once in twenty-four
hours. Some of the men had been conscripted into military service, were
ill-clothed and poorly paid, their families left to fend for themselves.
In 1916 Pratt received a pathetic letter from Señor de Monroy of
San Marcos, whose son Rafael had been left in charge of the little branch
there, telling of the execution of Rafael and his counselor by a Villista
detachment for refusing to renounce Mormonism. In spite of such hardships,
these humble people remained faithful. They kept the branches running with
the long-range instructions from Pratt, and they scrupulously saved a tenth
of their income for tithing, even when it meant going without food.
During his enforced exile, Pratt wrote much and spoke
often to American Mormon audiences. He was recognized as having a more
profound grasp of the Mexican scene than anyone else in the Church, and
he felt it important that everyone gain some understanding. His style helped.
Said his daughter, "He was an old-time orator. He wasn't this kind that
got up and took you logically from one point to another, he just got up
there and pounded the pulpit. But people listened to him." He always spoke
highly of the Indian people. His talks and writings constantly refer to
Book of Mormon prophecies on the birthright of the Lamanites. In an especially
incisive article for the Young Woman's Journal in 1914 and in a
series for the Improvement Era in 1928, he interpreted the Revolution
and other signs of the times as heralding the day of that birthright. The
Lamanites were ready to assume a position of leadership, and it was the
duty of the Church to train them and place them there. He often chided
the press and public opinion for their prejudiced view of the Indians,
especially of those in Mexico, and declared to Church members that their
missionary sons, far from working among the savages, were living among
a courteous and gently people. He openly admitted that his own prejudice
ran against the Spanish and other European conquerors whose influence on
native Mexicans had been one of corruption rather than enlightenment.
For two years, from 1913 to 1914, Pratt was only
partially active in Mexican Mission affairs, until the Church called him
to a different kind of mission. There were LDS missionaries in all of the
states along the Mexican border, but they spoke only English; no one had
ever worked with the many Mexican and Spanish-American residents in these
areas. In June 1915 Pratt was asked to open a mission among these people.
It was an odd arrangement. The new field of labor,
to open first in Colorado and New Mexico, came under the auspices and direction
of the Western States Mission. At the same time, Pratt still presided over
the Mexican Mission which was a separate entity.
The new mission was soon going strong, but he continued
to worry about the old one. By autumn of 1917 the civil war in Mexico had
wound down to a level where people could return to their homes and settle
down to a more normal life style. Cutting through red tape at the border,
Pratt went back to Mexico after an absence of four years.
His record of the train ride from Laredo to Mexico
City describes a long panorama of destruction and hunger. The capital and
surrounding area were in better shape than he had expected, but the people
still suffered from a scarcity of just about everything, including food.
In spite of this and other problems in the wake of war, the Church and
its members were in remarkably good condition. During his month-long visit,
Pratt found nearly all of the branches functioning according to the instructions
he had sent. Through keeping in touch with the man they had come to regard
almost as a father-figure, the Saints had remained faithful; their own
organizational abilities and even their numbers had gradually increased.
In the following spring Pratt made another trip,
again visiting the branches. The main purpose of this trip, however, was
to initiate a program of bringing Mexican Saints to Zion. Arrangements
had been made for fifty families to work for the Church-controlled Utah-Idaho
Sugar Company. As it turned out, the incompatibilities between Mexican
and United States immigration laws were insurmountable and the project
had to be scrapped. Perhaps the failure was partly due to Pratt's difficulty
in getting along with Mexican officials. His sister recalls that he always
had trouble with customs inspectors and showed little patience with Latin
bureaucracy. This probably had something to do with his anti-Spanish bias
Back in Salt Lake City for April conference, Pratt
met with the Church officials who together decided to separate the Spanish-speaking
people from the English-speaking missions. Accordingly, in May jurisdiction
of all Spanish-speaking branches and missionaries was transferred to the
Mexican Mission. Pratt also expanded the proselyting into Texas. In November
1918 the mission headquarters was moved from Manassa, Colorado to El Paso,
Texas, this being a more central location as missionaries
moved into the Rio Grande border towns, and across the river into Mexico
Crossing the border was still a bit risky. In June
1919 Elders Abel Páez and Victor Hancock went over to do some tracting
in and around Ciudad Júarez. They suddenly found themselves in the
midst of a pitched battle between Villistas and federal troops and could
not get back to El Paso. While waiting for a chance to reach the river
safely, they had an opportunity to interview Villista General Felipe Angeles,
and Eder Páez spoke with Pancho Villa himself. Both of the generals
expressed friendliness toward the Mormons and approval of the missionary
work being done in Mexico.
The rewards outweighed the risks, however, and in
October a branch of the Church was opened near Ciudad Júarez. This
was the first new one in Mexico since the exodus and the first in the northern
part of the country outside the colonies. In 1920, as he elders moved down
into southern Texas, some were also sent to Chihuahua City and Monterrey,
the first regularly assigned to the interior of the country since 1913.
By 1921 the civil war was effectively over and the
time was ripe to reopen the mission in the South. The first of March saw
Pratt, a pair of elders, and Church Historian Andrew Jenson on a train
headed toward Mexico City. Again they reported much evidence of the war
along the route, and some towns in ruins.
During the next few weeks ten more elders arrived
and all of the old branches were visited. For some places (Cuautla, Morelos,
which was Zapata's home town, for example) this was the first visit by
American elders in nine years. Working as a team to reorganize and to gather
history, Pratt and Brother Jenson made a comprehensive tour of the branches
and the capital.
At the conference of the Juárez Stake in November
1921, the Chihuahua Mission, which had functioned under stake authority,
was transferred to the Mexican Mission. The local Saints had always supplied
the area with missionaries, but due to colonial attrition in the Revolution,
this was no longer possible. Now Pratt's elders took over all of the branches
in Mexico except those in the colonies themselves, and he assumed the presidency
of all Spanish-speaking organizations in the Church.
Their number grew over the next three years as Pratt
moved missionaries into Querétaro, León, Guaymas, and Baja
California. In 1924 he opened up work among Spanish speakers in southern
California for the first time and established a branch in Los Angeles.
Mission headquarters remained in El Paso, but much
of the time Pratt was on the go to administer his far-flung and expanding
constituency. His daughter says that he was "conscientious about attending
every conference," including those in his mission, those of the Juárez
Stake, and the general conferences in Salt Lake City. "He wasn't home any
more than four or five days at a time," and when he was, there was "no
time for anything" as he was always busy translating and revising Church
literature. Then he was off again to Zion's Printing and Publishing Company
in Independence, Missouri, to Utah, or to some part of the mission.
On January 29, 1925 he was ordained a Seventy and
set apart to the First Council of Seventy. He died while still acting in
that capacity April 14, 1931, in a Salt Lake hospital, following an operation.