Porter Rockwell

Essay: Porter Rockwell, Richard Lloyd Dewey, 1986, 2002.

Orrin Porter Rockwell wasn’t just any Mormon gunfighter. He was the first Mormon baptized after the parents of the church’s founder, Joseph Smith. He was a man Rockwell revered like an older brother.

While you may have never heard of Rockwell, he is a saint-like figure among the Saints, an anti-Peter in the Mormon story of their founder’s martyrdom. It’s no coincidence that I first came across him in the weird westerns of Mormons Joel Jenkins and David J. West and not in accounts of Old West gunfighters. He supposedly appeared in his own dime novels of the 19th century (a claim I have not confirmed) and as a character in several films, it took a Mormon – Dewey himself – to write and direct movies centering on him. Statutes, songs, and places are named after him. There are Rockwell bobblehead dolls. And, of course, you can get his likeness on t-shirts.

Several Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ affiliated sites favorably mention him.

It’s no mistake that, according to one of his descendants (he had many but was never a polygamist), historians who might be interested in Rockwell stray away from writing about him. Too many undocumentable stories, good and bad, about him.

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