Porter Rockwell

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Porter Rockwell
OPRockwell.png
Porter Rockwell
Born Orrin Porter Rockwell
c. (1813-06-28)June 28, 1813
Belchertown, Hampshire County, Massachusetts
Died June 9, 1878(1878-06-09) (aged 64)
Salt Lake City, Utah Territory
Resting place
Salt Lake City Cemetery
40°46′33″N 111°51′44″W / 40.77595°N 111.86220°W / 40.77595; -111.86220
Nationality United States
Other names The Destroying Angel of Mormondom
Occupation Businessman, Frontiersman, Scout
Known for Personal bodyguard to Joseph Smith, Jr. and Brigham Young, Deputy US Marshal
Religion LDS Church

Orrin Porter Rockwell (June 28, 1813 or June 25, 1815 – June 9, 1878) was a figure of the Wild West period of American History and a law man in the Utah Territory. Nicknamed Old Port and labeled "the Destroying Angel of Mormondom", during his lifetime he was as famous and controversial as Wyatt Earp or Pat Garrett. He was the bodyguard and personal friend of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement (Mormonism).

Biography[edit]

Marker on the Mormon Walking Tour in Independence commemorating the house where Rockwell is accused of shooting Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs. Boggs, who was from Independence, moved to the house on the original City of Zion plot after he left office and the Mormons had been evicted from Missouri. The steeple of the Independence Temple by the Temple Lot is visible in the trees at the top of the hill.

Rockwell was born on June 28, 1813 in Belchertown, Hampshire County, Massachusetts to Orin and Sarah Rockwell, neighbors to the Smith family.

Rockwell was eight years younger than Joseph Smith. When Smith was publishing the Book of Mormon, Rockwell would work by picking berries at night and hauling wood into town in order to help pay for the publishing.[1]

At 16 years old,[2] Rockwell was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Fayette, western New York, on April 6, 1830, the day the church was organized; it is most likely that Rockwell was the youngest member of the first group to be baptized into the church.[1][3] He married Luana Beebe on February 2, 1832 in Jackson County, Missouri, and was endowed in the Nauvoo Temple on January 5, 1846.[4] A member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he served as a loyal personal bodyguard to both Joseph Smith, Jr. and Brigham 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.

Rockwell had the distinction of being the subject of a direct prophecy by Joseph Smith. After spending eight months in jail on charges of attempting to assassinate former Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs, a filthy and emaciated Rockwell traveled to Nauvoo, where he appeared unannounced at a Christmas party at Smith's home. When his identity was confirmed, Smith was moved to say, "I prophesy, in the name of the Lord, that 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."[5] The promise echoes that given by an angel to the parents of the Biblical Samson.[1]

Rockwell was a character of contrasts. On one hand he was said to be generous to a fault, even to strangers.[citation needed] For example, upon hearing of a widow who was balding from typhoid fever, he gave up his famous long hair to make the woman a wig. The recipient of the hair was Agnes Coolbrith Smith Pickett, widow of Joseph Smith's brother Don Carlos,[6] and mother of Ina Coolbrith, who grew up to be Poet Laureate of California.

On the other hand, he was reputed to have killed many men as a gunfighter, as a religious enforcer, and Deputy United States Marshal. It is said that Rockwell once told a crowd listening to United States Vice President Schuyler Colfax in 1869, "I never killed anyone who didn't need killing".[7]

Porter Rockwell had four wives but was never a polygamist.

"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."[8]

Boggs attempted assassination accusation[edit]

Rockwell was accused of attempting the assassination of Lilburn Boggs, the former governor of Missouri, who signed 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 having made 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 order was formally rescinded in 1976.

A grand jury was unable to find sufficient evidence to indict Rockwell,[9] convinced in part by his reputation as a deadly gunman and his statement that he "never shot at anybody, if I shoot they get shot! ... " Rockwell denied involvement in oblique terms, stating that he had "done nothing criminal". Some Mormons saw the assassination attempt positively: An anonymous contributor to The Wasp, a pro-Mormon newspaper in Nauvoo, Illinois, wrote on May 28 that "Boggs is undoubtedly killed according to report; but who did the noble deed remains to be found out." When investigators questioned Joseph Smith as to these accusations and Rockwell's Involvment, Smith denied that it could have been Rockewell. When 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 that Smith had offered a cash reward to anyone who would assassinate Boggs, and that Smith had admitted to him that Rockwell had done the deed. He went on to say that Rockwell had made a veiled threat against Bennett's life if he publicized the story. Smith vehemently denied Bennett's account, speculating that Boggs — no longer governor, but campaigning for state senate — was attacked by an election opponent. Mormon writer Monte B. McLaws, in the Missouri Historical Review, supported Smith, averring that while there was no clear finger pointing to anyone, Boggs was running for election against several violent men, all capable of the deed, and that there was no particular reason to suspect Rockwell of the crime.[11]

Rockwell was reportedly[according to whom?] a leader, together with Ephraim Hanks and Wild Bill Hickman, of the Danites, a Mormon vigilante group sworn to exact blood vengeance. Stewart Durham[who?] writes, "The most notorious Danite was Ephe Hanks, who went against Joseph Smith's wishes and started the Danites, on his own."[this quote needs a citation][relevant? ]

Utah years[edit]

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.[1]

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." The former site of the hotel is now on the grounds of a state prison. A nearby stone marker commemorates the spot.[12]

It was Rockwell's fame as a "mountain man" that attracted the explorer Richard Francis Burton to him.[13][citation needed] In 1860, on his trip across America to the west coast, Burton stopped to explore Salt Lake City and its environs. He stayed with Bishop Lysander Dayton (from Ohio) in a village near the city one evening 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 that 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 who disguised themselves as Indians to pass off blame) preyed on travelers.[14]

Death[edit]

Rockwell died in Salt Lake City, Utah Territory, of natural causes on June 9, 1878.[15] He was buried at Salt Lake City Cemetery. At the time of his death, Rockwell had been a member of the LDS Church longer than anyone living.[1] His epitaph reads, “He was brave and loyal to his faith. True to the Prophet Jos. Smith. A promise made him by the prophet. Through obedience it was fulfilled.”[16]

At Porter Rockwell’s funeral, Apostle and future Church President Joseph F. Smith spoke and said 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 had never once forgotten his obligations to his brethren and his God."[17]

Grave marker of Orrin Porter Rockwell

Legacy and influence[edit]

Films

Rockwell was the primary subject of the 1994 film Rockwell,[18] in which he was portrayed by Randy Gleave.

Rockwell has also been portrayed on screen by John Carradine in the 1940 film Brigham Young,[19] by James Coburn in the 1995 TV-movie The Avenging Angel,[20] and by Gyll Huff in the 1995 Trent Harris film Plan 10 from Outer Space.[21]

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.

2 Statues of Porter Rockwell exist. One near the old site of his Hot Springs Hotel and Brewery near the Utah State Penitentiary and the other in Lehi, UT off of main street behind the "Porter's Place"[17] restaurant which exists to celebrate his memory.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Cummins, Lawrence (May 2004), "Orrin Porter Rockwell", The Friend 
  2. ^ "Orrin Porter Rockwell". LDS.org. 27 January 2014. 
  3. ^ Rockwell, Orrin Porter, "Biography", The Joseph Smith Papers website, retrieved 2013-05-06 
  4. ^ Wadley, Carma (2002-05-24), "Books to help answer the question, 'are we there yet?'", Deseret News 
  5. ^ Schindler 1993, pp. 108–109
  6. ^ Sonne, Kristen (June 21, 1998), "Rockwell's colorful history recounted", Deseret News 
  7. ^ Hollister, Ovando James (1886), Life of Schuyler Colfax, New York: Funk & Wagnalls, p. 342, OCLC 1370045 
  8. ^ 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 
  9. ^ Independent Expositor, Nile's Register, Sept. 30, 1843[full citation needed]
  10. ^ "Porter Rockwell" Richard Lloyd Dewey
  11. ^ McLaws 1965, p. 59
  12. ^ "Mary Ann Neff Rockwell Biography" at the Wayback Machine (archived May 26, 2007)[unreliable source?]
  13. ^ Burton F. Richard, The City of Saints. Knopf, New York 1963. pgs.502-504
  14. ^ Burton, Richard Francis (1862), The City of the Saints (2nd ed.), New York: Harper and Brothers, pp. 448-450 
  15. ^ Salt Lake Tribune, June 12, 1878[full citation needed]
  16. ^ Arave, Lynn (19 May 1999), "S.L. Cemetery Is Alive with History The Famous and the Humble Rest in Peace Together", Deseret News 
  17. ^ a b Porter's Place 
  18. ^ Rockwell at the Internet Movie Database
  19. ^ Brigham Young at the Internet Movie Database
  20. ^ The Avenging Angel at the Internet Movie Database
  21. ^ Plan 10 from Outer Space at the Internet Movie Database

References[edit]

External links[edit]