Stories from the Life of Porter Rockwell, with John W. Rockwell

When Orrin Porter Rockwell died of a heart attack in 1878, his name was as well known as Brigham Young’s.

Cowboys sang songs about him, and newspapers had frequently printed scandalous accounts about the malicious Mormon “destroying angel.” But to many, Rockwell was a guardian angel, and it could be easily said he saved far more lives than he took.

It seems history tells two contrasting narratives about one of the West’s most controversial men. Yes, at times Porter Rockwell could act violently, yet he was overly generous to those in need. At least two dozen peopled died at his hand, yet in every instance, he was exonerated. As the ninth person baptized into the restored Church, Porter was central to the early growth of the Church, even though he was never called to positions of leadership. He was called a saint and a sinner, a lawman and a criminal, a hero and a villain. Indians feared him, saying he was impossible to kill, but some people traveled hundreds of miles to try. Although his death by natural causes likely disappointed the many outlaws seeking his life, it also fulfilled a prophecy given by Joseph Smith that no bullet or blade would ever harm Porter Rockwell.

A friend of Joseph Smith’s since childhood and later his bodyguard, Porter saved the life of the Prophet more than once. Porter also served as a bodyguard to Brigham Young and helped guide the first pioneers across the plains to the Salt Lake Valley. He became a legend as a frontiersman, a marksman, and a man of iron nerve. And though may outsiders characterized Porter Rockwell as a notorious, vengeful murderer, those who knew him saw him as a protector, a miraculous healer, and a loyal friend.