Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Who is Porter Rockwell

Just who is Orrin Porter Rockwell?

I enjoy thinking of him as a decidedly unique alternative compared to what most people think Mormons are like.

A hard-drinking, gun-fighter, scout, frontiersman, and sometime lawman - Porter Rockwell is to me the quintessential weird western hero.

Sometimes its hard to separate fact from fiction and I may have only muddied the waters with these newly found yarns in my collection of weird western tales starring the infamous Porter Rockwell in  Cold Slither! But you gotta do what you gotta do.

Born in Belchertown, Massachusetts on June 28th 1813, Rockwell was a friend to Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church. He was the youngest person baptized into the church upon its founding.  (Thanks Paul for the pic!)

Following the Church as they moved west to Nauvoo, Illinois, he was always a tireless supporter and helped whenever possible during the tumultuous years.

It was after eight months in prison on charges that he was the attempted assassin of Illinois Governor Lilburn Boggs, that Porter was exonerated and found himself back in Nauvoo. Haggard and unkempt, he made his way into Smith's home during a Christmas party.

At first thought to be an unruly attacker, it was then realized he was the prodigal friend returned.
It was here that Joseph Smith prophesied and blessed Porter that if he never cut his hair, no bullet nor blade could harm him. So was born the legend of the Destroying Angel.

Many a dime novel or embittered tell-all novelization featured a bloodthirsty Porter wreaking bloodthirsty ruin upon folk traversing through the Utah territory whilst shouting his terrible curse of "Wheat!"

[Awesome pic by Ryan Wood]

Porter has more murders laid at his feet as a member of the Danites - the church's rumored bloodthirsty enforcers - than any other gunman I can think of. The Salt Lake Tribune tabulated his kills at well over 100! Nobody else is even close. The author of In Mormon Circles, James Coates, says the number has to be closer to 50 to 100.

Of course the Salt Lake Tribune's numbers cannot possibly be true, but even a smaller percentage is still higher than the other infamous gunslingers.
Wild Bill Hickock = 6 or 7?
Billy the Kid = 8
Wyatt Earp = 10?
Doc Holiday = 16 (and the report said that was likely exaggerated)
John Wesley Hardin = 27

Fact and fiction take hard turns in the wild west and as I said its difficult to separate them, the actual accounts from men like Sir Richard Burton have Porter as a congenial fellow, warning the esteemed traveler to beware of white Indians (bandits disguised as Indians) in the mountains. They hit if off so well that Burton upon his return to England later sent a bottle of Brandy to Porter.

In the end, Porter died in bed without a scratch on him at the age of 64. The prophecy had come true despite all the scrapes, Indian wars and gunfights he had been in. The Salt Lake Tribune declared that "the gallows were cheated" but I see it as proof of something divine that defies materialist expectation.

Here's a final quote that I liked so much I had to put it in the book,
 “In his build he was a gladiator; in his humor a Yankee lumberman; in his memory a Bourbon; in his vengeance an Indian. A strange mixture, only to be found on the American continent.”
 — Fitz Hugh Ludlow on Orrin Porter Rockwell

Grab a copy of Cold Slither in print or kindle and I'll be signing copies at Salt Lake Comic Con next week too! 


Charles Gramlich said...

Pretty neat. Good to get the skinny on a character.

David J. West said...

Exactly Charles, it's always fun to play with the historical variables.