RUDY, Ark. -- Descendants of early Latter-day Saint leader Parley Parker Pratt feel certain they found his burial site after years of research. But a four-day dig that ended Tuesday did not turn up any identifiable human remains to carry out Pratt's dying wish to be buried in Utah.
Family spokesman Robert J. Grow of Salt Lake City, who attended the dig, said descendants knew there was a possibility that the remains would not be found because of the age of the burial site, the shallow depth and moisture in the clay soil.
At least now, he said, descendants know they have done everything possible to honor Pratt's request.
"We were digging in his grave, but Parley's remains are now part of the soil of Arkansas," Grow said Wednesday.
Pratt was chosen by Joseph Smith as one of the first LDS apostles. A religious writer and missionary, he also counseled Brigham Young. During a mission in the Southeast, he was hunted down by Californian Hector McLean, whose estranged wife Eleanor was Pratt's twelfth wife.
Although an Arkansas judge had cleared Pratt of ruining McLean's marriage, McLean shot and stabbed the preacher to death outside Van Buren in western Arkansas. Pratt died May 13, 1857, and was buried in a local family's cemetery.
Grow said the exact location of the Pratt grave was unclear because the Wynn Family Cemetery was mostly destroyed during the Civil War. Over a century and a half, Pratt's descendants made numerous attempts to find the grave, purchased a plot for him in Salt Lake City Cemetery, and erected a monument in the 1950s near where he was buried in Arkansas.
New scientific tools, including radar and electromagnetic surveys, made it possible to locate his grave, said Grow, who is Pratt's great-great-great-grandson. And this month, Crawford County Circuit Judge Gary Cottrell granted the descendants' request to exhume the remains on the condition that no other graves were disturbed.
Radar showed where graves were dug but did not detect actual bodies. Grow said the equipment, along with historical accounts, made it obvious where Pratt was buried -- a single grave more than 50 feet away from others in the cemetery.
Still, the descendants wanted to be extra careful in light of the judge's instructions, Grow said.
On Saturday, archeologists began digging slowly in the red clay plot now owned by the LDS Church, just east of Interstate 540 near Rudy. They used small tools and carefully recorded their work. Had their efforts been successful, descendants intended to bury Pratt in Salt Lake City, with two wives to his left and two wives to his right.
Now, Grow said, the grave will be reclosed and the site "will remain forever sacred to the family."
He said the descendants appreciated the help Arkansans past and present gave the Pratt family and felt comforted knowing that Pratt rests "among old and newfound friends."
Pratt is honored in Salt Lake City with a statue at the corner of 2300 East and Parleys Way, a road named for him. Below the statue are the names of his many wives and children. A park and a canyon also bear his first name.
Pratt's descendants include former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor is Pratt's great-great-grandson.