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Rockwell's colorful history recounted

Published: Sunday, June 21 1998 12:00 a.m. MDT

Orrin Porter Rockwell, a name well-known to many during the mid-1800s as either friend or foe, was remembered Saturday.

Three Lehi historians spent the day teaching about Rockwell and sites associated with his colorful history. As a fund-raiser for the Lehi Historical Preservation Committee, Richard Van Wagoner, Carl Mellor and John Rockwell took a busload of people to locations in Lehi, Tooele County and Salt Lake City.Locations included the Rockwell Ranch about 60 miles west of Lehi, the stagecoach stop in Fairfield that was once a way station for the Pony Express and Rockwell's gravesite at the Salt Lake City Cemetery.

Rockwell's great-great grandson, John Rockwell, who is also chairman of the preservation committee, described Porter Rockwell as a true pioneer.

"No one (better) served the territory and the people here in Utah as a lawman, as he did," said John Rockwell at the gravesite. "His largest contribution to Utah was his role as a peace officer; he was the deputy marshal in Utah."

He said Porter Rockwell brought a sense of security to people as he spent a lifetime hunting down outlaws in the wild frontier of Utah.

Porter Rockwell joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at age 15 in upstate New York and followed the Mormon pio-neers across the plains as they were pushed west. He was a member of one of the first groups to reach the Salt Lake Valley.

Porter Rockwell has been called "the destroying angel," a folk hero, outlaw, and "a controversial bodyguard to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young." He killed more than 100 people, the tour group was told.

John Rockwell's mother, Twila Porter Rockwell, said Porter Rockwell had a sweet, kind side to his personality.

In Nauvoo, Joseph Smith gave Porter Rockwell a blessing, "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."

However, 13 years later, he cut his hair to make a wig for Agnes Smith, the widow of Don Carlos Smith, Joseph's younger brother. "That event shows his good heart," Twila Rockwell said of her favorite story.

"In talking about his life (Porter Rockwell's), I hope it has piqued your curiosity about your own family history and you'll find in your own family history, people just like him," John Rockwell said at the gravesite. "Men and women who either in the past struggled so hard and achieved so much that we in modern times can't even comprehend what they had to endure."

Tour profits went towards the building of an 8-foot statue of Porter Rockwell to be displayed on the ground of the Memorial Building in Lehi. The statue is expected to be completed by local artist Stan Wanlass sometime close to the turn of the century. Porter Rockwell lived in Lehi from 1858-1861.

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