Arch Stanton Guest Post: Episode 12 of Today I Learned – Porter Rockwell, the Destroying Angel of Mormondom

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I usually drum my fingers on my chin while looking astute trying to think of an engaging introduction to these like Bugs Bunny scheming to outwit Elmer Fudd. I usually try to work in something topical or relevant to engage our TENS of readers, but not this week. DESTROYING ANGEL OF MORMONDOM. Look at the picture! I will never think of something more engaging than that.
Porter Rockwell was born in 1813 or 1815 (he didn’t know) in Massachusetts next door to Joseph Smith, the future founder of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, and was immediately hooked on the religion, which was more or less a cult at the time with only a handful of devotees at the time. Rockwell was baptized into the religion the day it was founded at only sixteen. After the Mormons were booted out of Massachusetts for being weirdos and settling in Ohio, Joseph Smith had a hunch this mecca was not complete yet, and sent Rockwell to Missouri to scout a more final location. It was in Missouri Rockwell essentially became an otherworldly badass.
Before long, Rockwell had gotten comfortable with a gun, and was pretty quickly arrested as a suspect in an assassination against the Missouri governor, Lilburn Boggs. People in the 1800s had way cooler names than shit like Jaydyyn or Tannyr today. He was almost immediately released because even if the state hated the Mormons, they still didn’t have anything like “evidence” or “witnesses” linking Rockwell to the alleged attempt. Before long, Mormons had began settling in Missouri and doing horrible things like opposing slavery, leading Governor Boggs to issue Executive Order 44 which was basically the original Purge if you were Mormon (seriously – the purpose was to “evict Mormons from Missouri by any means possible, including violence”). Writing on the walls, the Mormons bailed the hell out of Missouri, which was really a blessing in disguise if we look at the options at the time (Utah or Missouri? Hmmm). While they were leaving in the politest way possible, our friend Governor Lilburn was shot by an unknown assailant, which of course, could have only been because of the Mormons. Rockwell was held for eight months in jail awaiting trial before being released due to another lack of evidence. When later asked if he actually was responsible for the Governor’s assassination, Rockwell responded “I’ve never shot **at** anyone, if i shoot, they get shot – he’s still alive, isn’t he?”
As the last Mormon out of Missouri, Rockwell walked his ass to the new Mormon holy land in Illinois (not Utah yet), where Joseph Smith first thought him a drunk looking for a fight due to his long hair before he recognized the church’s most devote follower. It was at this point, Smith promised Porter if he remained faithful to the church and did not cut his hair, he would never suffer death from a bullet. Spoiler – he never cut his hair, and he died of natural causes in 1878, because Smith was either a wizard or Rockwell was a living legend.
Fast forward a few years – we’re still in Illinois (booo), and Joseph Smith has been assassinated (booo!). The good news is he has Rockwell watching his back, and the guy is not here to take ANY shit, and he went out and killed the alleged assassin. Rockwell was arrested again (this time – they kinda had a point), but was acquitted by new Mormon leader Brigham Young, referring to it as an act of self defense. So what if he hunted this guy and murdered him in vengeance, we’ll call it self defense if we want to dammit.
The church eventually gets to to Utah, where Rockwell is appointed Deputy Marshall of Salt Lake City, and guys, he was AMAZING at it. A rugged mountain man, guide, hot springs operator (????) and ruthlessly devoted to the law, he is estimated to have killed more men than Wyatt Earp, Doc Holladay, Tom Horn and Bat Masterson COMBINED. When asked about this in the twilight of his life, responded “I never killed anyone who didn’t need killing.” HOOOOOOOOLY SHIT I didn’t know you could actually survive, let alone act as a sheriff, with balls this big. Are you starting to see where the name “the Destroying Angel” came from?
I lied earlier when I said he never cut his hair – he allegedly cut his long luscious locks in order to provide a wig for a widow balding from typhoid fever (this lady would eventually give birth to the future Poet Laureate of California – Porter Rockwell, the Destroying Angel of Mormondom and diligent appreciator of the fine arts). Author Fitz Hugh Ludlow described him as such:
“But he was that most terrible instrument that can be handled by fanaticism; a powerful physical nature welded to a mind of very narrow perceptions, intense convictions, and changeless tenacity. In his build he was a gladiator; in his humor a Yankee lumberman; in his memory a Bourbon; in his vengeance an Indian. A strange mixture, only to be found on the American Continent.”
I can only wish people will say such awesome shit about me after I die. Porter Rockwell was essentially a founding member of the Mormom religion, a bodyguard for both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, and while he only had a 50% success rate at that particular function, he was an unmatched sheriff and mountain man to boot. You started reading this and thought the name was a bit hyperbolic, but admit it – “the Destroying Angel” seems to almost sell this guy short, even if it is one thousand times more metal than anything Slayer ever did.
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