Question: Orrin Porter Rockwell served as a personal bodyguard to the Prophet Joseph Smith. What did the Prophet Joseph promise Orrin Porter Rockwell?
Answer: Orrin Porter Rockwell was born June 25, 1813 in Belchertown, Hampshire, Massachusetts, the son of Orrin and Sarah Witt Rockwell. The Rockwell family lived near the Smith's in Manchester and were very good friends. Porter at this time was five years of age and Joseph seven years older. He was so enraptured in Joseph's work that he gathered berries to help with the translation of the Book of Mormon, and when there were no more berries to gather he chopped wood for the same purpose.
Porter was baptized early in 1830 in Fayette, Seneca county, New York and in the spring of 1831 journeyed to Kirtland, Ohio in company of Joseph's mother Luck Mack Smith. Porter then served as a personal bodyguard to the Prophet Joseph. At the time of the Prophet's martyrdom in Carthage, Illinois, Porter would have been at the side of his beloved leader, had it not been that he had received a special message from Joseph stating he was to remain in Nauvoo.
When Porter was charged along with Joseph in the shooting of Governor Boggs, Joseph was asked how he could be so confident Porter didn’t shot him. Smith replied.... "He's still alive, isn't he?"
Porter had the distinction of being the subject of a direct prophecy by the Prophet Joseph. After spending eight-nine months in jail on charges of attempting to assassinate former Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs, Porter traveled to Nauvoo, where he appeared unannounced at a Christmas party at Smith's home. When his identity was confirmed, Joseph said to him: “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.”
Porter did at one time cut his hair. Upon hearing of a widow who was balding from typhoid fever, he gave up his famous long hair to make her a wig. The recipient of the hair was Agnes Coolbrith Smith Pickett, widow of Joseph Smith's brother, Don Carlos.
Two years after Joseph’s death in 1844, Porter saw Young Joseph III, who was thirteen, who wrote, “[Porter] put an arm affectionately around my shoulders, and said, with much emotion, ‘Oh, Joseph, Joseph! They have killed the only friend I have ever had!’ He wept like a boy.”
Porter killed his first man while riding through Hamilton, Illinois, on his way to defend the Saints living at the south end of Hancock County. Porter, who having been hastily deputized by the sheriff being chased, fired, incidentally, while still astride a horse—-killed Frank Worrell with a shot “where his belt buckle” was, who was leading the mob chasing the sheriff at the time, and who was the lieutenant over the Carthage Greys—-infamous for conspiring, allegedly, with the mob set on murdering Smith by ordering his Greys to load and fire harmlessly with blanks.
Porter seems to have followed Brigham Young because he knew that was what the Prophet Joseph would have wanted him to do. He was made Brigham Young’s body guard. He was one of the advance company who entered the valley ahead of the main body of pioneers having given invaluable service as a scout across the plains and over the mountains. He had considerable influence with the Indians and was often instrumental in making peace between them and the caravan.
Of all the figures in early church history none is a more fascinating subject for character study than Orrin Porter Rockwell. He was slight of build but his gestures denoted a tremendous wiry strength and endurance. His low forehead, shaggy eyebrows over steel-grey eyes and the firm corners of his mouth were marks of character. His long gray hair was worn tightly braided and pinned in a compact plait at the back of his head.
Porter helped to establish Zion in the tops of the mountain, and then became a terror to the lawless elements of the Church. His attendance at meetings was infrequent for he felt that his rough nature and habits were out of harmony. After being one of the first to enter the valley, Porter was sent back to escort other companies. In 1849 he was sent in company with Amasa Lyman and Jedediah Grant to learn the possibilities of Utah Valley stock raising.
On March 3rd of that year the Nauvoo Legion was organized with Porter Rockwell as one of its officers. On July 29, 1858, Porter paid five hundred dollars to Evan M. Green for sixteen acres of land near the Crystal Hot Lakes. This land included a hotel with dining facilities, stable, brewery, and pony express station.
Rockwell was also reputed to have killed many men as a gunfighter, as a religious enforcer, and Deputy United States Marshal. It is said that Rockwell once told a crowd listening to United States Vice President Schuyler Colfax in 1869, "I never killed anyone who didn't need killing.”
Orrin Porter Rockwell died June 9, 1878 in Salt Lake City, just before his 65th birthday. He is buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery. At the time of his death, Rockwell had been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints longer than anyone then living.
Sources: FamilySearch.org; Brigham’s Boys