Porter Rockwell: Man of Faith or Murderer?

Loyalty to Joseph Smith earned Porter Rockwell protection from bullets and blade. That protection also led to his infamous reputation.

Image by Christina Crosland

Porter Rockwell was a lawman and a bodyguard to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. In spite of his rough reputation, he was a faithful and devout man, as stated in the Mormon Channel’s discussion of Stories from the Life of Porter Rockwell by Rockwell and Borrowman.

Orrin Porter Rockwell (1813–1878) was eight years younger than Joseph Smith. (See also “Joseph Smith”). When Porter was young, Joseph often defended him from bullies, earning Porter’s unwavering loyalty. Later, Porter would protect Joseph from mobs and persecution.

However, Porter didn’t become handy with a gun until the Saints moved to Missouri. After finding his young wife crying on the rubble of their honeymoon cottage—which had been destroyed by a mob—he vowed that he would never again be caught without a gun.

After the Saints were expelled from Missouri, Porter was offered money and an early release from prison if he lured Joseph back into Missouri, but he declined. In return, Joseph blessed Porter that bullet and blade could not harm him, so long as Porter stayed true to his covenants and never cut his hair or his beard. Unfortunately, outlaws attempted to disprove the blessing by killing him; however, no one ever succeeded in gunning him down.

Porter never relished taking a man’s life. Despite unfounded rumors that he killed hundreds of men, his great-great-grandson points out that the true number is closer to 12. Porter enjoyed the blessing’s protection his entire life and eventually died of natural causes. He had a temple recommend in his possession when he passed, which leaves no doubt concerning how his ecclesiastical leaders felt about Porter.

Listen to the full Legacy episode here.

Source: Mormon Channel

—Daniel Braithwaite, Mormon Insights

Find more insights

Read an article in the Friend magazine about Orrin Porter Rockwell.

Read a review in BYU Studies Quarterly of Harold Schindler’s book Orrin Porter Rockwell: Man of God, Son of Thunder

Photo courtesy of elvin hage

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  1. Porter Rockwell is always such an interesting man to learn about. I am thankful for his faith and willingness to serve the church his whole life.

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