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Porter Rockwell

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Porter Rockwell
Members of the Council of Fifty
March 19, 1844 (1844-03-19) – June 9, 1878 (1878-06-09)
Called byJoseph Smith
Personal details
BornOrrin Porter Rockwell
c. (1813-06-28)June 28, 1813
Belchertown, Hampshire County,
Massachusetts, United States
DiedJune 9, 1878(1878-06-09) (aged 64)
Salt Lake City, Utah Territory,
United States
Resting placeSalt Lake City Cemetery
40°46′34″N 111°51′43″W / 40.776°N 111.862°W / 40.776; -111.862
Known ForPersonal bodyguard to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, Deputy US Marshal
Known as "The Destroying Angel of Mormondom"
Occupationbusinessman, bodyguard, lawman, frontiersman, scout
Spouse(s)Mary Ann Neff (1854)[1]
Christina Olsen
Luana Hart Beebe
ChildrenAt least 7
ParentsOrin and Sarah Rockwell

Orrin Porter Rockwell (June 28, 1813 or June 25, 1815 – June 9, 1878) was a figure of the Wild West period of American history. A lawman in the Utah Territory, he was nicknamed Old Port and The Destroying Angel of Mormondom. He was as famous and controversial during his lifetime as Wyatt Earp and Pat Garrett.[citation needed]

Rockwell served as a bodyguard of Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter Day Saint movement. He was also a personal friend of Smith's.


He was born in Belchertown, Hampshire County, Massachusetts to Orin and Sarah Rockwell, who were neighbors of the Smith family. He was a descendant of Edmund Rice, an early immigrant to Massachusetts Bay Colony.[citation needed]

Rockwell was eight years younger than Smith. While Smith was publishing the Book of Mormon, Rockwell picked berries at night and hauled wood into town to help pay for the publishing.[2]

In 1830, at 16-years old,[3] Rockwell was baptized into the Church of Christ (original name of the church founded by Smith) in Fayette, New York. [4] Historically, the date of Rockwell's baptism is April 6, the day the church was organized, but original documents suggest a probable date of June 9.[5] Rockwell was the youngest member of the first group to be baptized into the church.[2][6]

On February 2, 1832, Rockwell married Luana Beebe in Jackson County, Missouri, and was endowed in the Nauvoo Temple on January 5, 1846.[7]

Boggs attempted assassination accusation

Marker on the Mormon Walking Tour in Independence commemorating the house Rockwell was accused of shooting Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs.Boggs, from Independence, moved to the house on the original City of Zion plot after he left office and the Mormons were evicted from their homes and lands in Missouri by his Missouri Executive Order 44. Rockwell was exonerated of all charges related to the attempted murder of Boggs.The steeple of the Independence Temple by the Temple Lot is visible in the trees at the top of the hill.
Marker on the Mormon Walking Tour in Independence commemorating the house Rockwell was accused of shooting Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs.
Boggs, from Independence, moved to the house on the original City of Zion plot after he left office and the Mormons were evicted from their homes and lands in Missouri by his Missouri Executive Order 44. Rockwell was exonerated of all charges related to the attempted murder of Boggs.
The steeple of the Independence Temple by the Temple Lot is visible in the trees at the top of the hill.

Rockwell was accused of attempting the assassination of Lilburn Boggs, who was the governor of Missouri who signed the Executive Order 44 on October 27, 1838 known as the "Extermination Order" evicting Mormons from Missouri by violent and deadly means. The order was the governor's response to the 1838 Mormon War and to what Boggs termed "open and avowed defiance of the laws, and of making war upon the people of this State . ... the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary for the public peace—their outrages are beyond all description." The Executive Order was in effect until 1976.

A grand jury was unable to find sufficient evidence to indict Rockwell,[8] convinced in part by his reputation as a deadly gunman and his statement he "never shot at anybody, if I shoot, they get shot! ..."[9] Rockwell denied involvement, stating he "did nothing criminal". Some people saw the assassination attempt positively: An anonymous contributor to The Wasp, a pro-Mormon newspaper (although not an official church publication) in Nauvoo, wrote on May 28 "Boggs is undoubtedly killed according to report; but who did the noble deed remains to be found out." After investigators questioned Smith about these accusations and Rockwell's involvement, Smith denied it could be Rockwell. Asked how he could be so confident. Smith replied. ... "He's still alive, isn't he?" [10]

Also at about this time, John C. Bennett, a disaffected Mormon, reported Smith offered a cash reward for the elimination of Boggs, and Smith admitted Rockwell did the deed. He went on to say Rockwell made a veiled threat against Bennett's life if he publicized the story. Smith vehemently denied Bennett's account, speculating Boggs, while campaigning for state senate, was attacked by an election opponent. Mormon writer Monte B. McLaws, in the Missouri Historical Review, supported Smith, answered, while there was no clear finger pointing to anyone, Boggs was running for election against several violent men, all capable of the deed, and there was no particular reason to suspect Rockwell.[11]

Utah years

Following Smith's death, Rockwell followed Brigham Young and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) to Utah. In 1849, Rockwell was appointed as deputy marshal of Great Salt Lake City, and remained a peace officer until his death. He was well-known for his endurance, loyalty, and relentlessness.[2]

Rockwell operated the Hot Springs Hotel and Brewery at the southern end of the Salt Lake Valley, in an area known as "Point of the Mountain".[citation needed]

Rockwell's fame as a "mountain man" attracted the explorer, Richard Francis Burton.[12][citation needed] In 1860, on his trip across America to the west coast, Burton stopped to explore the Salt Lake City area. He stayed with Lysander Dayton in a village near the city, and Dayton invited Rockwell to dinner. Rockwell sent for a bottle of Valley Tan Whiskey, and he and Burton drank shot-for-shot into the night, with Rockwell outlining steps Burton should take for safety during his passage to Sacramento. Rockwell advised Burton to carry a loaded double-barreled shotgun, sleep in a "dark camp" (unlit, miles from where supper was cooked), to never trust appearances, and to avoid the main trail, where "White Indians" (so-called because they were white robbers disguised as Indians to avert blame) preyed on travelers.[13]


Rockwell died in Salt Lake City, Utah Territory, of natural causes on June 9, 1878.[14] He was buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery. At the time of his death, Rockwell had been a member of the LDS Church longer than anyone living.[2] His epitaph reads:

He was brave and loyal to his faith. True to the Prophet Joseph Smith. A promise made him by the prophet. Through obedience, it was fulfilled.[15]

Grave marker of Orrin Porter Rockwell in Salt Lake City Cemetery.
Grave marker of Orrin Porter Rockwell in Salt Lake City Cemetery.

At Rockwell's funeral, apostle Joseph F. Smith, nephew of Joseph Smith and future church president, spoke the following about Porter:

They say he was a murderer; if he was, he was the friend of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, and he was faithful to them, and to his covenants, and he has gone to Heaven and apostates can go to Hell ... Porter Rockwell was yesterday afternoon ushered into Heaven clothed with immortality and eternal life, and crowned with all glory which belongs to a departed saint. He has his little faults, but Porter's life on earth, taken altogether, was one worthy of example, and reflected honor upon the church. Through all his trials, he never once forgot his obligations to his brethren and his God.[16]


Rockwell served as a loyal, personal bodyguard to both Smith and later to Young. Separating fact from legends, folklore, and myths concerning Rockwell is difficult for historians, in large part because Rockwell was only semi-literate and kept no personal diary.[citation needed]

Rockwell had the distinction of being the subject of a direct prophecy by Smith. After spending eight months in jail on charges of attempting to assassinate Boggs, Rockwell traveled to Nauvoo, appearing unannounced at a Christmas party at Smith's home. After his identity was confirmed, Smith was moved to say:

I prophesy, in the name of the Lord, you — Orrin Porter Rockwell — so long as ye shall remain loyal and true to thy faith, need fear no enemy. Cut not thy hair, and no bullet or blade can harm thee.[17]

The promise echoes one given by an angel to the parents of the Biblical Samson.[2]

Rockwell, at one time, cut his hair. After hearing of a balding widow with typhoid fever, he offered his famous long hair to make a wig. The recipient of the hair was Agnes Coolbrith Smith Pickett, widow of Smith's brother, Don Carlos,[18] and mother of Ina Coolbrith; she became Poet Laureate of California.[citation needed]

Rockwell killed many men as a gunfighter, a religious enforcer, and Deputy United States Marshal. According to legend, Rockwell told a crowd listening to United States Vice-President Schuyler Colfax in 1869, "I never killed anyone who didn't need killing", a quote used by actor John Wayne in a movie decades later.[19]

But he [Porter Rockwell] was that most terrible instrument that can be handled by fanaticism; a powerful physical nature welded to a mind of very narrow perceptions, intense convictions, and changeless tenacity. In his build, he was a gladiator; in his humor, a Yankee lumberman; in his memory, a Bourbon; in his vengeance, an Indian. A strange mixture, only to be found on the American Continent.[20]

Cultural influence

Rockwell was the primary subject of the independent film Rockwell (1994), starring Randy Gleave and featuring National Basketball Association star Karl Malone in a minor role. Rockwell has also been portrayed on screen by John Carradine in the film Brigham Young (1940), by James Coburn in the television film The Avenging Angel (1995), and by Gyll Huff in the Trent Harris film Plan 10 from Outer Space (1995). He was also the main character in the Death Valley Days episode called the "Son of Thunder" (1969). Rockwell, played by Gregg Palmer, touched on his Avenging Angel persona and his fight to live with the reputation he had as a gun fighter that could not be killed by any bullets.[citation needed] Rockwell is portrayed by Corbin Allred in a supporting role in “Out of Liberty”, detailing his experiences in Liberty Jail and directed by Garrett Batty.

In 2010, a documentary called Stories from the Life of Porter Rockwell was created by Issimo Productions, which includes historical re-creations of events from the life of Rockwell, as well as interviews with scholars and historians, including John W. Rockwell, great-great-grandson of Rockwell.[citation needed]

Two statues of Rockwell exist: one near the old site of his Hot Springs Hotel and Brewery near the Utah State Penitentiary, the other in Lehi, UT, off of Main Street behind the "Porter's Place"[16] restaurant which exists to celebrate his memory.[citation needed] The restaurant has since moved to Eureka, Utah [21]

See also


  1. ^ Schindler 1993, pp. 197, 205
  2. ^ a b c d e Cummins, Lawrence (May 2004), "Orrin Porter Rockwell", The Friend
  3. ^ "Orrin Porter Rockwell". 27 January 2014.
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Biography", The Joseph Smith Papers website, archived from the original on 2013-04-06, retrieved 2013-05-06 |contribution= ignored (help)
  7. ^ Wadley, Carma (2002-05-24), "Books to help answer the question, 'are we there yet?'", Deseret News
  8. ^ Independent Expositor, Nile's Register, Sept. 30, 1843,,[full citation needed]
  9. ^ Beckstorm, Danielle. "Porter Rockwell". LDS Living.
  10. ^ "Porter Rockwell" Richard Lloyd Dewey
  11. ^ McLaws 1965, p. 59
  12. ^ Burton F. Richard, The City of Saints. Knopf, New York 1963. pgs.502-504
  13. ^ Burton, Richard Francis (1862), The City of the Saints (2nd ed.), New York: Harper and Brothers, pp. view=1up, seq=474 448-450
  14. ^ Salt Lake Tribune, June 12, 1878[full citation needed]
  15. ^ Arave, Lynn (19 May 1999), "S.L. Cemetery Is Alive with History The Famous and the Humble Rest in Peace Together", Deseret News
  16. ^ a b Porter's Place - Porter Rockwell Restaurant
  17. ^ Schindler 1993, pp. 108–109
  18. ^ Sonne, Kristen (June 21, 1998), "Rockwell's colorful history recounted", Deseret News
  19. ^ Hollister, Ovando James (1886), Life of Schuyler Colfax, New York: Funk & Wagnalls, p. 342, OCLC 1370045
  20. ^ Ludlow, Fitz Hugh (1870), The Heart of the Continent: a record of travel across the plains and in Oregon, with an examination of the Mormon principle, New York: Hurd & Houghton, p. 355, OCLC 761423
  21. ^


External links

This page was last edited on 30 October 2020, at 08:41
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