Archeologists have begun carefully digging up the remains of a Mormon church leader who was murdered and buried in western Arkansas 150 years ago.

The descendants of Parley Parker Pratt were granted their court petition this month authorizing the exhumation, and they plan to move Pratt's remains to Utah for reburial in the Salt Lake City Cemetery, next to four of his 12 wives.

The slow digging using small archaeological tools began Monday and may be completed this week, said Robert J. Grow, Pratt's great-great-great grandson.

"We're being very careful," said Grow, who also is president of the Jared Pratt Family Association. "We're taking photos and marking everything we find."

Crawford County Circuit Court Judge Gary Cottrell granted the descendants' request to exhume the remains on condition that no other graves are disturbed.

Radar indicates that multiple bodies are buried in the cemetery and that Pratt's remains are 18 to 30 inches below the surface. Historical accounts also show they were placed in a walnut casket surrounded by a pine box.

Parley Pratt, the son of Jared Pratt, was chosen by Joseph Smith as one of the first Mormon apostles. A religious writer and missionary, he also counseled Brigham Young.

While on a mission to the Southern states, he was accused by Californian Hector McLean in a lawsuit of causing estrangement in McLean's marriage. Eleanor McLean became Pratt's 12th wife.

Although Pratt was exonerated by the court, McLean and two accomplices pursued Pratt to Alma, where they fired at and stabbed him. Pratt died May 13, 1857.

Pratt was buried in another family's cemetery just east of Interstate 540 near Rudy. A granite monument in the cemetery, now owned by the Mormon church, has marked the site since the 1950s.

Grow said one of Pratt's dying wishes was for his body to be returned to Utah. He said Pratt will have two wives to his left and two wives to his right in the Salt Lake City Cemetery and the reburial will help close a chapter in the family's history.

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.