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Orrin Porter Rockwell

1813 - 1878

Orrin "Porter," Rockwell born in Belchertown, MA.  He went by the name "Porter." As a boy, he eagerly listened to the conversations between his parents and the parents of the prophet Joseph Smith (Founder of Mormons). He used to beg his mother to allow him to sit up and keep the pine torch burning so that he could hear the message. He picked berries by the moonlight and gathered wood so he could sell them to obtain money to give to the Prophet to help print "The Book of Mormon". Orrin was received into the Mormon Church on Apr 6, 1830. He was Joseph Smith's personal body-guard and gun-bearer. He was characterized in newspapers and journals of his day as a notorious gunman and religious zealot.

As a settler in Jackson County, Missouri, in the mid-1830s, he was caught up in the so-called Mormon War of 1838, in which Missourians acting under an "extermination order" issued by Governor Lilburn W. Boggs drove the Mormons from the state. It was during this turbulent period that Rockwell became identified with the "Danites," a band of Mormon stalwarts who organized for the defense of fellow church members against their antagonists.

In 1842 Rockwell was accused of the attempted assassination of Governor Boggs, the man who had ordered the expulsion of the Mormons four years earlier. Boggs survived the shooting, and after months in Missouri jails Rockwell was freed when no indictment was brought against him. It was on his return to Nauvoo, Illinois, where the church had relocated, that Rockwell became the subject of an astonishing prophecy by Mormon leader Joseph Smith on Christmas day of 1843. Smith said that as long as Rockwell remained loyal and true to his faith, he need fear no enemy: "Cut not thy hair and no bullet or blade can harm thee!"

Joseph Smith's death at the hands of a mob at Carthage, Illinois, spurred a Mormon exodus from Nauvoo. It was during this time of upheaval that Rockwell shot and killed Frank A. Worrell, who was menacing Hancock County Sheriff Jacob Backenstos. Rockwell had been hastily deputized only moments before the shooting, a fact which made the incident no less sensational when it was learned that the dead man had been the militia lieutenant in charge of protecting Joseph Smith when the Mormon prophet was assassinated the year before.

After Joseph Smith was killed by a vigilante mob in Carthage, Ill., "Porter" then became Brigham Young's protector, and personally lead the Mormon contingent across the plains to Great Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Porter was one of the territory's earliest lawmen--deputy marshal for the provisional state of Deseret in 1849. When President James Buchanan appointed Alfred Cumming to replace Brigham Young as Utah's governor in 1857 and ordered a large contingent of U.S. troops to escort the new chief executive to his mountain offices, Rockwell was among the number of Mormons chosen by Brigham Young to hinder and harass that "Utah Expedition," which Young considered an invasion "by a hostile force who are evidently assailing us to accomplish our overthrow and destruction."

After the outbreak of the Civil War, Colonel P.E. Connor, who was ordered to Utah with the California Volunteers to "protect the mails from Indian depredations," hired Rockwell as a guide and scout for infantry and cavalry in an action against a band of Shoshones at Bear River near present Preston, Idaho, in January 1863.

He was a scout, pioneer, rancher, and deputy Marshall. Orin never practiced polygamy, although a Mormon. He died 9 Jun 1878, of natural causes, in Salt Lake City. The Census of 1870, Salt Lake City, Salt Lake Co., UT., lists Porter Rockwell as, farmer, age 50, born MA, 8 in household, real estate wealth $8000, personal wealth $5000.


Harold Schindler, Orrin Porter Rockwell: Man of God, Son of Thunder (1966; second edition 1983); Frank Esshom, Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah (1913); Utah History Encyclopedia: Orrin Porter Rockwell.; Lyle Rockwell, The Rockwell Family Foundation Web Site: Rockwell Articles.