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Book review: Interesting tale of Gov. Boggs' 'Assassination'

By Mike Whitmer

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 13 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

"THE ASSASSINATION OF GOVERNOR BOGGS," by Rod Miller, Cedar Fort, $14.99, 210 pages (f)

Lilburn W. Boggs was quietly relaxing with his family in Independence, Mo., on May 6, 1842. The former Missouri governor had just eaten dinner and retired to his sitting room to read the local newspaper. Suddenly there was a horrendous blast and the window of the sitting room exploded inward. Seventeen lead balls flew into the room, narrowly missing Boggs' small daughter. Most of the balls imbedded themselves in the home's walls but four found their way into Boggs' head and body. By most accounts of the day, Boggs had been assasinated by an unknown assailant.

But someone forgot to tell Boggs that he was a dead man! In fact, he recovered and went on to lead a reasonably productive life as a settler/leader in the California gold rush region.

Author Rod Miller, drawing on historical facts and poetic license, has created an interesting story of the circumstances that led up to and followed the attempted murder of the former Missouri governor. Since no one knows for sure who shot Boggs, the author seeks to offer facts and ideas that will lead to the discovery of the identity.

The story is set in 1867, 25 years after the assassination attempt and just after Boggs has died of natural causes. Under the guise of a Pinkerton detective named Calvin Pogue, Miller lays out pertinent facts concerning the near death of Lilburn W. Boggs for William M. Boggs, the son of the former governor. Pogue travels throughout the West in search of information that will give final closure to the Boggs family as to the identity of the perpetrator of this crime.

Using many well-known names from the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the West, Miller presents historical facts and long-held myths pertaining to events following the attempted murder of the former governor of Missouri. Primary among these is the tradition that Porter Rockwell was the actual assassin — almost — of Boggs. While the story is entertaining and offers many "interviews" with important figures of the time, Miller also has to do a lot of speculating in order to reach some of his conclusions such as:

Did Porter Rockwell really attempt to murder Boggs?

Was Joseph Smith complicit in the attempt?

What was the relationship between Rockwell and Brigham Young?

How many people did "Old Port" actually kill and was he sanctioned by the leaders of the church?

Using Pogue as his front man, Miller finally comes to a conclusion concerning the attempt on the life of Boggs in 1842 — one that seems to still have several weaknesses in fact. The truth is, the answer may never be known. But maybe Brigham Young said it best when asked the question of Porter's involvement in the plot:

"It is a certainty (that Rockwell was not involved in the attempt) — if only, for no other reason, that Boggs survived. Had Port fired the shot, that would not have been the case."

Mike Whitmer is a teacher and loves to study history. His email is grundelwalken@gmail.com and he blogs at mtwhitmer.blogspot.com.

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