|Ken Corbett portrait of Orrin Porter Rockwell from a |
photo of Rockwell
The Rockwell of the book is heavily armed and obviously a man accustomed to violence. At the same time he is a devout Mormon believing in the early principles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Fascinated by the fictional character I did some online research of the 19th Century Rockwell who was known as Porter Rockwell. He led a remarkable life.
Baptized a Mormon on the day the Church was organized in 1830 he was a personal bodyguard for founder, Joseph Smith, and Brigham Young.
In Johnson's book Rockwell describes himself as “Danite, Man of God, Son of Thunder, and the strong right arm of the prophets of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints”.
I had not recalled hearing of a “Danite” before reading the book. They were a secret Mormon militia formed in Missouri during the late 1830’s when there was major conflict between the Mormons and non-Mormons of the northwest part of the state. They participated in raids and battles.
I had not remembered that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, featured the Danites. In Wikipedia it states:
In the story, the Danites constitute a brutal group of enforcing vigilantes operating under the direction of Brigham Young—and more particularly the fictional Sacred Council of Four, silencing criticism and questioning, and preventing dissenters from leaving the Salt Lake Valley.
In The Case Of The Repentant Writer Sherlock Holmes' Creator Raises The Wrath Of Mormon by Hal Schindler there is a fascinating discussion of how Sir Arthur changed his attitude towards Mormons after traveling to Salt Lake City in 1923.
A grand jury was unable to find sufficient evidence to indict Rockwell, convinced in part by his reputation as a deadly gunman and his statement that he "never shot at anybody, if I shoot they get shot! ... He's still alive, ain't he?"
Released after 8 months in jail Rockwell went back to his Mormon brethren. Their leader, Joseph Smith, said on Rockwell’s return:
"I prophesy, 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.
In Richard O. Cowan and William E. Homer, California Saints: A 150-Year Legacy in the Golden State (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1996), 127–42 there is a fascinating quote about Rockwell owning and running bars in California during the Gold Rush:
It must have amused Rockwell to hear tavern patrons tell “Porter Rockwell stories” without realizing that he was behind the bar. For protection, he kept loaded pistols and a trained dog at his side. When he traveled on horseback, the dog rode behind him with its paws on his shoulders and searched the trail ahead for trouble. It was trained to lick his face rather than bark—a silent alarm.
Having a good acquaintance with the other side of the law Rockwell was appointed Deputy Sheriff of Great Salt Lake City in 1949.
He is reported to be the source of the classic Wild West American phrase:
"I never killed anyone who didn't need killing".
Considering his life it is somewhat surprising he died of natural causes in 1878, the last survivor of the original Mormons.
Who could make up a life like Rockwell’s?