Orrin Porter Rockwell; Man of God, Son of Thunder by Harold Schindler. From the University of Utah Press:
Was Orrin Porter Rockwell a cold-blooded killer or a saint? In this balanced account, Schindler paints the thrilling portrait of a genuinely colorful individual, a unique man of the frontier west. This electrifying, stunningly illustrated biography of the most mysterious and controversial figure in Mormon history won the American Association for State and Local History’s prestigious Award of Merit.
In his fast-paced and lucid style the author pursues the man behind the legend. Was the devoted bodyguard of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young a stalwart pioneer or a vicious murderer of scores of innocent victims? Schindler’s enlightening answers make truly fascinating reading.
“Harold Schindler has attempted to strip away Churchly whitewash and Gentile vitriol to reveal Rockwell as he was. At once a Mormon and a trained police reporter, Schindler comes well-equipped fro the job. He is dispassionate in an area of American history long marred by partisanship.”—Saturday Review
“One of the best biographies of its kind.”
—The Los Angeles Times
This was the first “real” LDS history book I read, during the time Denise and I were faithful Latter-day Saints. As I remember, it did not shake my faith but changed my view of Mormon history in a positive way and added the ballast that seemed to be missing from those other histories I had read — exciting and well-written, but “thin.” It also brought me to the realization that actual characters and events are often much more interesting and engaging than anything a fiction writer can come up with. I should also mention that the book is illustrated with some very cool pen and ink drawings.
I would conclude that Rockwell was closer to the vicious murderer side of the scale and never really came away with any affection for him. He was colorful, but not in a likable way… more like a maniacal, scary Taxi Driver colorful. To this day, I still cannot travel along the Sevier River and drive through Nephi UT without feeling haunted by the ghosts of the Aiken brothers and other hapless people ol’ Port took down there to “use up.”
Here are some interesting Porter Rockwell tidbits:
- Rockwell always had “any number of shooting irons and other deadly weapons in abundance on and about his person.” When he was arrested in 1846 at Nauvoo IL, the headquarters of the LDS church, he had enough weapons to fire 71 rounds without reloading and “an array of knives.” These were the days before repeating rifles.
- After shooting Lieutenant Frank Worrell from a galloping horse with a shot to the abdomen, Rockwell coldly remarked “I aimed for his belt buckle,” and added, “I was afraid my rifle couldn’t reach him, but it did, thank God.”
- Joseph Smith prophesied over Rockwell at a Christmas celebration in 1843, “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.” It appears to be the only prophecy of Smith’s that came to pass. Rockwell did cut his hair in 1855 — I believe he was in California at the time and, believe it or not, he looked even scarier with the buzz cut. Rockwell died of a heart attack.
- Rockwell enjoyed a good smoke and a drink. In fact, Joseph Smith once contracted Port to operate a bar at the Mansion House, which was the church headquarters in Nauvoo, as well as Smith’s private residence! This took place when the prophet’s wife was down river. Emma came home to a polished bar with Rockwell setting up drinks, “scrubbed and combed.” Emma gave Joseph the ultimatum, “You are at liberty to make your own choice. Either that bar goes out of the house, or we will!” Joseph saw the light and the bar was removed.
- Legend has it that Rockwell was once in a tavern where he got into an argument with another customer. The man held a gun to Rockwell and shot him point blank — the bullet slowly came out of the barrel, hit Rockwell’s chest and fell to the ground.