History By Michael S. Riggs
Nancy Lucinda Pratt
Of the "two more women" he was told to "hunt up," Nancy L. Pratt was first and, therefore, probable wife number seven. She stayed married to Justus twenty-eight years and had five of his children. This meant she stayed longer and had more children with Justus than any other of his wives. In comparison to the widow, Canfield, who decided to not go West, using Morse's retrospective logic the question is begged: did Nancy lack good "sense" by deciding to go with him? Yes or no, she nevertheless did make the trek with Morse to Utah and, after staying for one winter, then followed him down to southern California as one of the founding colonizers of the Mormon community of San Bernardino.
Their life in California was a hard one, especially for Nancy as the wife of an often-absent lumber man and shingle maker. Also difficult were the deaths of their two daughters, Mary Jane (in 1853, at the age of five) and Frances E. Morse (in 1869, at the age of 12).
A severe strain in Justus and Nancy's marriage came in 1857, with the recall of the colony back to Utah following the Mountain Meadows Massacre and the rumored invasion of Johnston's Army. According to local historian Pauliena B. LaFuze, "Justus Morse returned to Salt Lake, although several sons and their mother [Nancy (Pratt) Morse] remained in San Bernardino." Justus became disillusioned with Utah Mormonism and returned to southern California and Nancy in 1858. The exact nature of their separation was unclear. Did he go to Utah with the intention of sending for her later? Was it her choice to stay behind or his? Justus later wrote his sister that he had been "flat broke four times since I saw you [in 1845]." And at least one of the times was when "the Mountain Meadows Massacre occurred," which led to his return to Utah in 1857. Morse may not have had enough money to afford to take his dependant family members with him but felt compelled by duty to return himself.
Nancy was the first of the Morses' to unite with the RLDS Church in San Bernardino, in fact almost four whole years before Justus. Since he had not been an active polygamist for twelve years, the way was clear for entrance into the Reorganized Church. The weight he carried with him as a result of his prior activities in the principle, however, by necessity inhibited his later involvement in the Reorganization. While limiting to Morse, he was, nevertheless, able to remain faithful to the end. Nancy, on the other hand, was not. Sometime before 1882 it was noted in the local branch records that she was expelled from the RLDS Church. No explanation was given as to why. In 1873, Justus Morse left Nancy and San Bernardino for the last time and moved to Hopkins, Michigan, to reunite with his siblings and their families. No legal divorce was executed as no legal marriage was ever performed. Before Justus left California in 1873, some of their property was liquidated, but not all. In 1882, for example, five years before Morse's death. Nancy designated herself a "widow" in order to convey a tract of land to her son's wife, Emma (Taft) Morse, for "the sum of one dollar." A fairly creative way to handle a precarious situation, indeed, knowing that she had no legal status as wife and yet, being a co-owner of the property, she simply made herself a widow. After 1883, Nancy apparently moved from San Bernardino as that was the last land transaction date, and no death or burial records exist for her in the county archives. Twenty-seven years after Justus left southern California, one former neighbor who remembered him said when "he [Justus] & his wife [Nancy] parted ... he went back east & married an old acquaintance." Such a story must have been hurtful to Nancy who had given so many hard years to Morse. In the end, she lost both her husband and her Mormonism(s).
As late as 1873, just before leaving the valley forever, Justus, along with his soon to be ex-wife, Nancy (Pratt) Morse, sold two one-acre lots to an "M.E. Button" for six hundred dollars.
7. Nancy Pratt, LDS, disaffected, RLDS, disaffected
43. Deeds, Book 27,551. San Bernardino County Archives. A week before the cited transaction. Nancy (again as a widow) sold an acre of land in downtown San Bernardino to C. W and J. B. Tyier for "two hundred dollars, gold coin of the United States." Book 27, 491. San Bernardino County Archives, San Bernardino, California. The witness to this transaction was John Brown Jr., a long-time resident in the valley who knew Justus Morse personally and most likely knew Nancy's designation as a widow was a ruse.
44. San Bernardino County Archives. That Nancy would move is somewhat surprising considering all three of her living children, i.e. Justus Jr., Henry and Hiram, all lived the rest of their lives in San Bernardino.