The Porter Rockwell Effect: Mormonism’s Soft Spot for Bad Boys

Russell Mormon 64 Comments

At BYU, I was a bit of a dabbler, at times, bordering on dilletantism. I took a week of Greek (too snotty), a year of Hebrew (being in company w/Brother Joseph has its perks, even it means having to tell people constantly that the JS translation bears little resemblance to the Masoretic text), and a semester of French.  I also took a history course by our in-house sports historian called Sports, Society, and American culture.  He had written a paper called, “Muscular Mormons” which placed Mormon conceptions of masculinity within greater trends of “muscular Christianity” then-prominent in American culture.  Ultimately, the paper was hardly a second-draft and needed much revision before it could be published.  Yet the ideas hit me in the chops–we as Mormons are distinctive in our how we make manliness.

Case study: Porter Rockwell.  By all accounts, Porter Rockwell was a ne’er-do-well, “a strange-looking member for any church,” wrote a contemporary, even for the Mormons.  He may have been mentally retarded (which would account for Joseph’s saying that he was as innocent as a child), but he certainly would not be revered in the contemporary Church.  Yet there’s a difference between Rockwell and your average thug–he picked the right side.  Had Porter been friends with John C. Bennett rather that Joseph Smith, I am convinced that we LDS would shudder when we hear the name, Porter Rockwell.  Yet as a good acquaintance once (frighteningly) said to me: “God could use a thunder storm. Or Porter Rockwell.”  Yeah, scary.

Porter Rockwell has become our Al Capone and Jack Bauer all with a dash of boyish mischief.  His greatness only exists in our historical memory.  He was edgy, witty (in defending himself against the charges of carrying out an assassniation attempt against Lilburn Boggs: “He’s still alive, ain’t he?”).  No respectable Mormon mother would really want their daughter dating Rockwell these days. But many Mormon mothers find, “Modern-day Sampson” (the country song written in Rockwell’s honor) to be moving and inspirational.

So my question: to what degree is Rockwell representative of the Mormon vulnerability to the “bad boy” cultural strain? (a cultural strain admittedly present in the individualistic West).  What makes us vulnerable to less-than-pious images provided they are on our side?  Is it our theology (doubtful, but I could be convinced)?  Is it our 100-some years of cultural isolation that has led us to value folks who are “our guys”?

Discuss…

Comments

comments

Comments 64

  1. I’m not sure “mass murder” is accurate; that sounds like it would fit someone more like Stalin, or Che Guevara. “Multiple homicide” might be a better fit.

  2. Well, as a fundamentalist I revere Brother Rockwell for his dedication to the prophet and to the gospel.
    When I was a mainstreamer (30+ years), I never heard much about Brother Rockwell, or a million other important things for that matter.
    Blood atonement and avenging the blood of the prophets will not go away just because the “brethren” in Salt Lake choose to ignore it.
    The Lord chooses who He chooses. He doesn’t need the mainstreamers’ “common consent”.

  3. I believe Porter Rockwell to be one of the most colorful figures in early church history. Unlike many heroes of the past, PR became a legend well before his death. Fiercely loyal, he could easily be compared to a “made man” for a god father. What he lacked in formal education and secular learning he made up for with his skills as a frontiersman. Unusually skilled with firearms, tracking, orienteering, and outdoor survival made him bigger than life.

    If you combine his outdoor skills with his loyalty to both JS and BY, you can see why the early saints loved him. This in light of the character flaws most accepted to be true about PR. In short, he was a drunk, womanizer, killer, and conman. He abandoned his first wife and children and then took the wife of Amos Davis at gun point in the tavern that Davis owned and Rockwell had been staying in. Within two months, he was in the Nauvoo temple escorted by Mrs. Davis. Three days later his first wife was sealed to Alpheus Cutler in the same temple. Porter is famous for setting up a saloon in the Mansion House while Emma was away on a shopping trip in St. Louise. Even by conservative accounts, he is credited with killing over one hundred men. Although never proven and denied by PR, he was the primary suspect in the shooting of Gov. Boggs. Combine those things with a blatant disregard for the Word of Wisdom and his association with counterfeiting in Nauvoo. These are not the virtues of a humble servant of God or an actual believer in the doctrines of the religion he was so loyal to. Talk about irony…

    I suspect we today, as in the past, love the image of someone who lives without fear of man or God. Men aspire to be like him and woman secretly lust after such. Porter Rockwell actually helps make my point about how dangerous unthinking devotion can be to a religious cause. He committed all these horrible acts believing that JS would ensure his entrance into Heaven based solely on his loyalty to defending the church by whatever means necessary. A member of the Son’s of Dan as well as the Council of Fifty, Porter Rockwell is without a doubt one of the most interesting people I’ve studied…

  4. Cool Post Russell

    “He may have been mentally retarded (which would account for Joseph’s saying that he was as innocent as a child”

    Just curios where you picked the above up from.

  5. Yeah, sometimes I worry if I’m going to make it to the Celestial Kingdom, but then I remember I’ve killed WAY fewer people than Porter Rockwell and then I feel better.

  6. There was not a thing “mentally retarded” about Porter Rockwell that I have ever heard or even suggested before this. He was obviously extremely clever, not to mention guilty (list loooong string of prettily much univesaly condemed incidents–even discounting whatever hyperbole exists in the various accounts he killed vast numbers of people) and he never (or almost never) got caught; due, as far as I can tell to both his own cleverness and the support of his Capo, B. Young. I have always found it appalling that Lehi has a statue to him.

  7. All I can say is, his loyalty to the Brethren and to Brigham Young and to Joseph Smith was unquestioning, and for that loyalty, he will be rewarded. I’m glad I’m not his judge, but I feel God will be far more lenient knowing all the circumstances of his life than some of you guys are in your judgments, just like some of you seem to think you know enough to condemn Joshua for his “genocide.”

  8. Aboz,

    I don’t condemn Porter Rockwell; I just won’t justify his actions. I sincerely hope that you don’t believe people in this day and age can be commanded by God to kill and or exact revenge on heretics and apostates. If you do, some of us need to run for cover… 🙂

    Seriously, PR said he never killed anyone that didn’t need killing. In other words, in his mind killing for the cause was part of God’s plan. I suppose he also believed if a woman was in love with him and not her husband, then he was justified in helping her move out. I guess that’s the problem for me here Mr. Aboz, every kind of evil seems justifiable if God is on your side. Therein lies the problem with fanatical devotion to any cause. Common sense seems to go out the window.

    Perhaps that’s why the Jews had such a hard time accepting Christ. Everything in their past pointed at an angry vengeful god who instructed his prophets in a very black and white way. Then this guy shows up and preaches a gospel of forgiving and loving your enemies, turning the other cheek, and most importantly not at all interested in taking on the evil Roman empire and leading his people out of their oppression. No wonder the Jewish leadership wouldn’t accept him; he was not the same god they’d been worshiping for 2000 years. That’s why PR methods don’t line up with a Christian religion. He was very “Old Testament” if you will. If it makes you feel any better, I’m sure whatever judgment is waiting for JS and BY, Porter will share in…

  9. Formerly djinn:

    Cleverness and insanity are not mutually exclusive. Pick a serial killer (Charles Manson, Ted Bundy) and you’ll find an above average IQ. But you’ll also find hebrophonic schizophrenia. And since the mental health profession did not exist in the 19th century (nor would it have been relevant to Porter Rockwell), we simply have a very difficult time knowing much about Rockwell’s mind.

    James:
    My hypothesis (“may have been” being the operative words) re: his mental illness is really an extrapolation, a piecing together to reconcile Joseph’s statements with Rockwell’s obviously (and in some cases, morbidly) less-than-tasteful acts. I don’t know if JOseph knew he was mentally retarded per se, but I think that is the reality to which his words speak (who says Joseph had to always understand his own prophecies?)

    The quip about Rockwell’s innocence from HC 5:125 (“He is an innocent and noble boy”). I don’t know precisely what to make of it except that it has something to do with his accountability converged with the relatively violent culture of the West.

  10. Russell Stevenson, you seem to have forgotten the theory of this thread; to wit Porter Rockwell was like, totally awesome. He wasn’t, and such behavior should be roundly condemned, not as this post (and the statute in Lehi, and the vaiours other Porter is our homeboy t’s (alright, I made that one up))does, make him sound like some sort of fun bad boy. This isn’t sneaking out at night with a false ID to buy a 6-pack of Bud.

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    Djinn:

    Yes, I’m up at 3 am…I’ve been compensating for the odd schedule I had to keep last week.

    As far as the “theory of this thread” I, incidentally, don’t even buy into the Porter Rockwell-rocks-my-socks nonsense. In my posting, I noted that I’m not particularly fond of friends comparing Porter to divine punishment nor am I keen on those who liken him to Jack Bauer. The killings he was on trial for at the time of death were probably his indeed–based on Schindler’s evidence.

    That said, I hardly find it wrong to interpret the evidence in as faithful of a way as possible. And the evidence available suggests that Rockwell, while skillful, may not have been all-there. Does that make the murders any less abhorrent? Hardly…but then again, there have been thousands of clinically insane killers…and we don’t go around asking that we condemn them in the same way you are asking us to condemn Rockwell.

    I do find the circumstances of Rockwell’s marriage to Mrs. Davis to be interesting indeed. Schindler notes that Joseph’s death let out the inner demon in Rockwell…Joseph, he said, was the only man who could control him. To prove it, he took Davis as a wife at gunpoint. In a strange sort of sense, given Joseph’s (relatively) tame disposition, this only helps to heighten my respect for Joseph.

  12. One of the more interesting things is that Porter Rockwall would “save the county” the cost of a hanging with horse thieves. It turned out that he wasn’t shooting them, he was making them walk to Reno, in the belief that the experience would teach them not to steal horses and make anyone walk in a similar situation. That came to light when one of the “victims” of “justice” showed back up in Utah and it was obvious he wasn’t dead.

    It is also interesting how he became reconciled with the federal marshals in Utah and they with him.

  13. Verbally dance as we will with Rockwell’s acts to reconcile them with the Gospel, I have to believe we would use them as “proof” that any other church he belonged to was “of the devil”.

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    Holden:

    I wouldn’t believe that at all. I tend to view most other churches in quite an opposite light. I know that early Islam had a militant edge. I’m not a huge fan of it, but nor do I conclude that Muhummad was a wild-eyed tyrant. I know about the depravity of the Munster Anabaptists, but I tend to view Anabaptism as a morally courageous movement.

    Heavens, using the logic you just articulated, I could delegitimize *any* movement of any kind–be it religious, secular, or ideological. We’ve all produced/attracted some weird/bad apples. Even Hinduism has its hardline zealots in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

  15. But what a way to increase tithing donations!!!!!! Plus, can youu imagine Br. Rockwell in a white shirt unacompanied with a quart (ok, maybe just a pint) of borboun (I can’t spell it, I’m sorry.) Church would so much more interesting, esp. including the addition of the occasional six-shooter. Oh, an the hair.

  16. Sorry about the egregious spelling errors. I blame my terror at infuriating Bro. Rockwell, plus my general cluelessness, which does not include a taste for hott boys with bandoliers, except, of course, Gael Gabriel Marcia. Oh yeah, he was an actor. But if he were to show up with a gun, and a shirt in a color other than white, and my name on his I-phone (or even scrawled, unintelligibly on a bit of bearskin), I just might, uh well….

  17. Re #14- My statement about O.P. Rockwell being attributed to killing over one hundred men comes from the book “Orrin Porter Rockwell Man of God Son of Thunder”. I feel the author (H Schindler) did a balanced job of reporting on Orrin’s life. The author points out in the Preface that not all of his sources are primary and therefore some room to argue fact or fiction.

    I completely agree with the notion that this guy shouldn’t be held up as a hero. As much as I enjoyed reading the book about his life, I’m also horrified at what this guy could do without the slightest twinge of guilt. Of course, whether or not he felt guilty no-one will ever know, but his statements certainly would lead one to believe his conscience was clear…

  18. A fundamentalist moment….

    It’s true… Brother Rockwell would probably be kicked out of a mainstreamer meeting and his temple recommend would surely be pulled. But then again, those nasty old polygamists like Joseph Smith and Brigham Young would be ostracized by the mainstreamers as well.

    Doesn’t that ring a bell with anyone that something just might be wrong?

    Just curious.

    Anyway, back to Brother Rockwell. I have always compared him to Nephi regarding being commanded to take lives. When Nephi slew Laban he was indeed acting as a “hitman” for the Lord.

    “Sorry, Russell, I guess I just draw the line at churches having hitmen.”

    You are free to draw the line wherever you want, but apparently God doesn’t honor your line drawing.

    With respect…

  19. Bruce in Montana–I guess the question would be “Was God involved in it at all?”

    One of the most detailed murders that Rockwell was involved in was the Aiken party in 1857. The so-called Aiken party were six Californian gamblers going to meet the US Army, the Utah Expedition, to take advantage of the great number of men with some money. They considered them to be “easy marks”. The traveled with a wagon train to Utah. At the time they left the wagon train, the wagon master sent word to the Nauvoo Legion about the men. The men did not talk much about themselves only to say they were going to meet up with the army.

    In Weber County, the men were arrested and their property was confiscated and then taken to Ogden for questioning. They were then taken to SLC and jailed as spies. They were held under guard until church authorities decided what to do with them. In the end, they were given the choice to leave the Territory or stay in SLC, but they could not continue their journey as planned.

    Deciding to go back to California, they were escorted by Porter Rockwell and others. All six went as far as Lehi, but at that point two stayed behind. As the four left Lehi, one of the four was overheard to say to one of the remaining “Goodbye, John. If you come this way and see our bones bleaching on the plains, bury them.” He apparently felt that his days were numbered.

    At a point along the trail, the sign was given by kill the four gamblers, which was done. The bodies of three were throw into the river. One, although wounded, escaped. Rockwell and others came into town late that night.

    One woman testified she saw Porter Rockwell sitting inside the Tithing Office with several other men. She heard a voice say, “Boys, you’ve made a bad job of it; two got away. Nephi won’t be trusted with another job.”

    A mule and a pony later recognized as belonging to the Aikens were found in Rockwell’s stock.

    Bill Hickman, if you believe the book “Brigham’s Destroying Angel”, later killed one of the surviving members of the party on orders from Brigham Young.

    In the grand scheme of things, it would appear to me that “saving a nation from unbelief” doesn’t equate to roaming gamblers.

    At his death, Rockwell was out on bail after being arrested on these murder charges.

    Brigham proudly boasted “If men come here and do not behave themselves, they will not only find the Danites, whom they talk so much about, biting their horses heels, but the scoundrels will find something biting their heels. In my plain remarks I merely call things by their right names.” JofD vol 6, p 6

    Legend has Rockwell’s killings beyond 100, beyond 200. He did not deny killing people. “I never killed anybody that didn’t need killing” (Life of Schuler Colfax, OJ Hollister, p 342)

    I realize I have few of the facts. I fail to see God in any of this.

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    I recently took a graduate seminar on Soviet history. In our discussion of the purges, we discussed how there were two models of how the Purges took place–1) the totalitarian model and 2) the revisionist model.

    The totalitarian model (think Robert Conquest) maintains that the Purges were entirely top-down. Stalin and the Politburo flipped a switch and X number of people died. There is no room for competing structures of power–of any bottom-up murder.

    The revisionist model allows for the possibility that Stalin may have sent the signals but the signals took on a life of their own beyond what was intended. Society, in a sense, became its own perpetuating machine of atrocity.

    I don’t equate pioneer Utah *at all* with the Soviet state. However, I think many critics have bought into the totalitarian model–w/BY controlling everything. Call it the “not a sparrow falls” thesis where BY sees and directs even the smallest crime and esp. murders. I tend to think, however, that just as the totalitarian model is outdated in Soviet studies (and it is…and woefully so), the totalitarian model in Mormon studies is also horribly simplistic. Just b/c a theocracy exists doesn’t mean we can attribute every crime or virtue to the powers-that-be.

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    Djinn:

    Your argument still defers to the totalitarian model in some regards. You seem to argue that BY “allowed” it to happen. That still places the blame on the “powers-that-be.” This is not at all the point I was driving at. I’m maintaining that BY did not have total control over the Utah territory. Never mind that the West (not just Utah) had a violent culture to it where siege mentalities were the order of the day.

    And I still wonder how the *many* people that BY didn’t like (T.B.H. Stenhouse, Bill Hickman, et. al.) lived nice peaceful lives in Utah outside of the Church.

  22. Actually, we’re arguing the exact same point. People such as Porter Rockwell could uh, let’s not mince words here, kill those that were seen as enemies of the Mormon church, by BY or others, because he knew that there would be no repercussions. And there weren’t.

    I confess, I have a relative-in-law that was blood atoned (and called out explicitly by Brigham Young, and confessed to by Hickman in that rather infamous autobiography, and so have an agenda.) The agenda being– friend of the church (by whatever random official is granted official power, better be careful if you off him) enemy of the church (same standards) shoot ho!

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    Porter has gained such a legendary stature that I doubt we’ll ever be able to allow the truth of it to come out. He just has that way of getting inside people’s heads. But try we shall, eh?

    First, re: the violence culture of Utah that you seem to suppose, there really is very little basis in fact for it. While, granted, extralegal violence could take place given the lack of real centralized authority in the frontier, the evidence we have suggests that Utah was no more violent than other territories. Lynchings, for example, were remarkably low, with only Nevada and Montana outpacing Utah. Even historian D. Michael Stewart notes that “extralegal violence was rare compared to that found in other frontier communities.”

    Second, with due deference to the deceased, I would, as a lover of documented history, have to insist on knowing the documentation from which you conclude that your in-law was blood atoned. Given that there were so many opportunities for the people in power (Governor Stephen Harding, for example) to exploit this and the continued peaceful habiation of *prime* individuals (like Stenhouse and others), I am highly skeptical of those accusations…no matter the source. I’ve heard some cooky family stories–including within my own. So no offense, but could you give me the name of your relative?

  24. We have a (or several) contemporaneous accounts of Brigham Young calling him out publicly as dealing with the enemies of the Church, we have letter from his wife describing that he told her he was to be blood atoned, at which point he took off; we have the confession of Bill Hickman that he killed him. Ardis Parshall pooh-poohs all this evidence, for what its worth, mainly because there’s no written documentation that Brigham Young ordered the hit.

    At the time, everyone seemed to have known that Jesse Hartley had been killed by “the church” and even who the killers were. There is a heartbreaking letter from my G-G-gma describing having to live among her husband’s killers–Bill Hickman specifically–prior to Bill Hickman’s tell-all. No legal action was ever taken, begun, whatever. The child she had by Jesse Hartley died; I’ve seen this incorrectly reported. I’m only related to his wife through her third (actually) husband.

    However, the public denunciation followed by the admitted murder followed by nothing seems pretty clear to me–Brigham Young, after making his preferences known didn’t have to explicitly give any more instructions, and the murderers felt, and were, safe. this story has been known in my family forever, they’re all good good good good Mormons, I had a Great Uncle who spent a huge amount of time trying to show that Jesse Hartley wasn’t killed, but instead, just ran off. Didn’t find anything.

    Oh, and I’ve seen the statistics for Deseret and murders; typical of other western areas, lots of deaths of young men, not so many of women and children, I agree with you on that part. Brigham Young kept things pretty much in line, through well, scaring people with stories like Jesse Hartley’s.

    Also, don’t forget how much tinier Deseret was to Soviet Russia. The exact methods will of course be at a much much much smaller scale. Take Mountain Meadows Massacre. Brigham Young definitely gave an order the not deal with the Fancher wagon train. He also had some very close associates (including, yes, an ancestor of my Ex) one campground over. Convenient senate hearings on that one.

  25. “the evidence we have suggests that Utah was no more violent than other territories” Doesn’t sound like God’s standard to me.

    The original posting here asks the question why certain folks are “our guys”. In this case, it is the desire to see that a wrong is made right, even if a wrong is the means. Don’t we all love revenge movies?

    I think of the Prophet being served legal papers by someone who did not recognize him. When asked by the server if he was Joseph Smith, Jr., the prophet responded “No, I am not”. The discussion ended with Joseph not being given the papers. Later, Joseph explained that since his father died, he no longer went by Joseph, Jr, although the record shows that was clearly not true (not that that explanation really mattered anyway-he was who he was). Even when reading that story, most Latter-Day Saints will chuckle and say “Way to go, Joseph”. No matter what untruth may have been spoken.

    Giving that story, I laugh at myself. When BH Roberts was being sought by the law, he traveled under the name James Reed. I once went to visit my son on his mission. When I arrived at his apartment, he was with the DL. My son saw me in the parking lot and bee-lined over to me, explaining that he would be in big trouble since I had come unannounced. The DL shortly came over and I introduced myself as James Reed, a member of the church. I couldn’t resist.

    After all this time, people will read between the lines in the accounts of Rockwell and Hickman according to what they believe the church and its president would do. Court testimony, etc, will not sway people either way. After all OJ didn’t do it. He got off.

    It is interesting to search Rockwell on LDS.org. He is referred to as “cruelly persecuted”, “loyal” (which we know he was), “worthy of example” (this from Joseph F Smith at Rockwell’s funeral. He is even talked about in the Friend as a knowledgeable horse owner. That article didn’t mention Aiken’s horses, however.

    btw, djinn, even if your comments took us elsewhere, I appreciate them. Not too many wards have discussions like this…..

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    DJinn:

    I guess it has been derailed a little…but it’s still in the general ballpark. If you can still dig this line of discussion, I’m interested.

    I’ve been trying vigorously to find your ancestor in the Journal of Discourses, BYU Studies, the Journal of Mormon History, Dialogue, Sunstone Online, and Gospelink. I found, of course, the Hickman account. I also found other purported BY executions (though they too were severely wanting in evidence). Have your ancestor’s letters been published anywhere?

  27. I wouldn’t necessarily put lying on the same level as murder. Lying to protect one’s self has a definite scriptural precedent in Abraham and others.

    Reminds me of a funny visit (speaking of derailing) I had with a Messianic Jew on my mission. I brought up the fact that Abraham lied and this guy (he was spiritual, brilliant, etc.) said, “Where does the Bible say not to lie? When has God ever commanded us not to lie?” The question took me aback. I tried to search my mind for some sort of Biblical rule.

    “What about the 10 Commandments?” I asked.

    “That says don’t bear FALSE witness AGAINST THY NEIGHBOR,” he replied. “Is that the same as saying ‘honey, you don’t look fat in those jeans?’ Does that have anything to do with lying to protect yourself?”

    I didn’t really have an answer to that, and actually I still don’t.

  28. Here’s part of my kerfuffle with Ardis Parshall,

    What is history? If the murder [of Jesse Hartly] occurred, it was in 1854. She (Mary Ann Polly Bullock Hartly Roberts) wrote an account (or at least told someone who actually wrote down her words) accusing Hickman of killing her husband on orders of the prophet in 1858; William Hickman’s account was written in 1871. The two accounts dovetail, but reasons for the murder are different, indicating to me, at least that it is not a matter of one person repeating a story heard from another. The missing he (Jesse Hartly) went missing at the right time, never to again appear. Doesn’t some of this count as something close to evidence?

  29. I think Ms. Parshall’s point was that we have no proof that Brigham Young ordered a hit on Jesse Hartly. My point, was that no direct order was required….

    There’s also this:

    “In the early days of my experience in Utah, I frequently had cases which required me to go to the city of Provo, and when attending court there I lodged at Mr. Bullock’s hotel. Having heard of the murder of Hartley, and that his wife was a sister of Mr. Bullock, I asked him on one occasion, while stopping at his hotel, whether what I had heard respecting the murder of Hartley was true. He stated that Hartley had incurred the displeasure of Brigham Young, who at a public meeting had used strong language against Hartley, and had ordered him to leave the speakers stand; that on account of the charges made by Brigham, which Bullock said were not true, Hartley was put under the ban of the church, and decided to change his residence. He joined the company of Judge Appleby, and while leaving the Territory was murdered by Hickman. I asked Mr. Bullock if the matter had ever been investigated by the executive authorities, and he said it had not been, although it was generally known that Hickman had committed the crime. I also asked him why he had not instituted proceedings against Hickman. He shook his head significantly and replied, ‘Don’t press me for an answer to that question.’
    RN Baskin, Former Mayor of Salt Lake, Reminiscences of Early Utah.

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    Arthur:

    Good story. And good point too. I knew there was a reason my date the other day didn’t go so well…

    DJinn:

    Actually, you had the spelling right the first time (according to Hickman’s account, anyway).

    I have emailed a prof. about this case. He should be able to provide some information/perspective on it. Stay tuned.

  31. A lot of people talk about how many people Porter Rockwell killed and all the awful things he’s done, blah blah blah. Everyone on here acts like he actually did try to assassinate Governor Boggs. I’m not saying he didn’t, but if you study some history, you realize that any one of Governor Boggs competitors in the election could have tried it as well. Even wikipedia mentions that some of the other candidates were vile enough to try it. Porter’s “He’s still alive, ain’t he?” might not have been wit so much as an actual statement of innocence.

    Another thing is, you can’t believe everything you hear about him. He is a legend and therefore half of everything you hear about him is false and the other half is exaggerated.

    Finally, think about how you would be in the pioneers’ shoes. You and your people had suffered all sorts of atrocities at the hands of your neighbors to whom you’d never done anything. Then your own government orders your extermination (Missouri Executive Order 44), and then here comes a man who is like a nineteenth century superman…or at least he appears so to you. This is why he’s a legend.

    Look at the issue from all angles before you make any judgments, people.

  32. One other thing: people keep talking about how he killed one of the dudes who’d been protecting Joseph Smith, but forget that Frank A. Worrell was no friend of Joseph Smith. Probably led the mob right to him.

    Not that it’s right to kill people who disagree with you, but Joseph was Porter’s friend. His best and maybe only friend. If a bunch of people shot YOUR best friend, what would YOU do??? Especially with a temperament like Porter Rockwell’s.

  33. for all that think that they can pass judgment on porter, I would suggest that you go and read the blessing on his gravesight by an apostle…basically what was said, was that if you took his life as an entire work, his seat is reserved high in the celestail kingdom…

  34. “High in the Celestial Kingdom?” Are you nuts! He was a the trigger man for the real killers Joeseph Smith and Brother Brigham. 

  35. What a cool thread. I’m not sure what to think about Porter Rockwell, but he’s growing on me. (I’m a much bigger fan of Lot Smith, who, sadly, gets almost no attention these days and who worked with Rockwell to stop the Fed troops from charging into Deseret in the Utah War.) There are a lot of purists on here who believe that no one has ever or should ever do anything violent, but I think we, as Mormons, have plenty of examples of how the Lord works. He loves. He forgives. He is patient. But he does not tolerate injustices forever, and once you’ve crossed the line, well, you’ve crossed the line. The Aiken murders are interesting, and I think that they, like the over-discussed Mountain Meadows murders, are not simple matter. All happened during a time of war. Real war. Whether those who Mormons and those who love Mormons want to admit it. I lean toward liking Porter Rockwell for three reasons: (1) He was powerful (and therefore interesting); (2) He was loyal to the prophets whom I revere (the friend of my friend is, you know, my friend); (3) He passed through every interesting period of the Church’s hiistory–baptized the day the Church was founded (April 6, 1830), with Joseph from childhood through Nauvoo, present for all the Mormon wars and the Utah War (and plenty of Indian wars), and wild west gunmen with a charitable bone. Those who want to knock him down a notch don’t understand that the world is not the sanitized fairy land a lot of Provo folk imagine as children. Read the scriptures! What did Helaman do? What did Moroni do? What did Teancum do? They did the best they could, and sometimes that meant fighting off the baddies. As for blood atonement nonsense: I highly doubt that anyone was ever ordered killed. I mean, I seriously, seriously doubt it. But I don’t doubt that killings happened, and the BY and others were more than happy to pretend that the Church had enough power to do such things. It’s called a bluff. (There are just too many people who never had a day’s bother in Deseret but who were apostates, and those that always went on and on about Danites were extremely hostile.)  Oh, and one more thing, there was no enforced Word of Wisdom in Porter’s day, so don’t judge him on that. If he did anything wrong, it might have been his taking of that dude’s lady, and however grievous that might be, it is a forgivable sin–and murder to protect the innocent or one’s self and family is not a sin in the first place.

  36. The Word of Wisdom didn’t become a commandment for the Saints until the 20th century. Also, factoring in the politico-social climate of the Saints in those days, understanding Porter Rockwell becomes far more complex than just what he did or didn’t do. I believe Porter to be a man trying to do the right thing in very difficult circumstances the Saints found themselves in. 

  37. I’m not condoning a single killing by Porter Rockewell, however, I’ll also give him the benefit of the doubt on the matter too because I simply don’t know the exact circumstances of what happened. The Saints in the very early days of the church found themselves in very precarious circumstances, many of those killings could be justifiable, some may not. In the 4th chapter of 1st Nephi, Nephi a PROPHET of God was commanded to kill Laban. Killing another man isn’t necessarily AMORAL when done under the discretion of God. God holds the keys to who enters and exits this life. We as the instruments in his hands, done under His authority may execute those orders, but ultimately these things can be justifiable in God’s eyes in these instances. I’m not saying these killings were or were not, but the uncertainty definitely should be granted by God’s judgement and not ours. The fact that Porter was so close to Joseph, the Lord’s prophet in those days, leads me to believe personally that he may very well have been justified in God’s eyes for those killings. We shall see one day.  

    1. I will condone at least one killing. The Sherrif of Carthage Ill was escaping the Carthage greys, when he saw Porter. Porter was then deputized, then ordered to shoot at the greys. He killed one of them. After the leathal shot the mob turned around and left the Sherrif be. Porter went to court over that and was aquitted of wrong doing as the Sherrif tesitifed that he had saved his life.

  38. You’ve got to remember that we’re talking about things that happened more than a hundred years ago. And that many different accounts of events have been slanted, for very different purposes… there are the apologists who try to scrub history clean and make out the LDS settlers as true “saints,” and there are the anti-mormons who combine truth with complete fabrication in order to implicate LDS church leaders, especially. If you do your research and read everything that’s out there without choosing which perspective you’d like to believe, you’ll find accounts of these men, porter rockwell, bill hickman, etc, that end up all over the map.  and Hickman himself has confessed that a great deal of his “autobiography” was “fiction,” that he did it becuase he was mad and wanted money.
    I have learned, after doing years of research on events such as the Mountain Meadows Massacre and the Utah War and on people such as Rockwell and Hickman, that it’s possible we’ll never really know exactly who was responsible for which atrocities, who gave who orders, and who is telling the truth. THe only real thing I’ve come away with is, a) people aren’t perfect and b) Utah, being the middle of the wilderness, was somtimes a lawless, dangerous place to live… but who knwos how much more or less lawless and dangerous it would be if another group had settled there? My guess is things would have turned out pretty much the same… murders, political problems, etc… removing the “mormon” element might have made things a bit less bloody and hectic. But let’s not forget that the first people who came to america were religious refugees, and that we see their fight for independence as noble.  IN other words, I don’t see how we can really judge… but we can read, and be interested, and apply what we learn to our own lives and our own weaknesses.

  39. Having read multiple biographical accounts of Rockwell, I am disgusted that this author even hints he could be a “ne’er do well,” and “mentally retarded.” Anyone who knows anything about Rockwell knows he was a very successful business man, which counters both of those claims. These points ruin any credibility in having a meaningful conversation about Rockwell. 

  40. Your comments though widley accepted by those who have not studied Porter and want to believe what ever they want to are very far from the truth. The fact is the number of men killed by Porter was closer to 24. Since Porter was seen in St. Louis a day or two after the Boggs attempted killing he could not have been there. Also Porter had a lot more sense with weapons than did the killer of Boggs. Remember Porter had some quality weapons on his person. So why would he steal such a poor weapon like the one used in the attempt. And why would an experianced marksman overload the poor quality stolen pistol with gun powder. Ofcourse this caused the demise of the weapon as well. Also the eye witness description looked nothing like porter. So before you say he was guilty you have a pile of evidence suggesting otherwise.

  41. Also the Foklore story of him Marrying Amos Davis’s wife is not supported as thier is no such record of the marriage, where as there are records of all of the records of marriages in the Temple of the day. Thus, you story here also has a pile of evidence agianst it. Stop the lies please. By the way Porter never had more than one wife at a time though he was married to 3 over his lifetime. Sounds like alot of people you and I both know today does it not.

  42. Oh, he only killed 24 people not 100. That makes it so much easier to admire him today as the LDS people do. How many did Bundy kill? What a puss. Does it matter what “side” one is on? To glamorize any killer is deplorable. Most people who followed/s JS/BY were/are “Mentally Retarded”. Read from sources outside what your cult, I mean church, feeds you and get the TRUTH. JC is the way, not JS.

    Jeff

    1. How many men, under George Washington’s watch, were killed to bring forth the freedoms allowed that were undeniably needed to restore the Gospel in this dispensation?

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