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Bronze statue adding weight to Porter Rockwell legend
It will pay tribute to famed pioneer in Lehi park

LEHI -- Orrin Porter Rockwell lives on.

The legendary frontiersman, lawman/gunslinger and colorful folk hero who fired off controversy as often as young imaginations will soon stand in bronze in heroic proportions in the soon-to-be-finished new Pioneer Park across the street from the Lehi Library. The site is the same spot where Rockwell's cabin once stood outside the Lehi fort wall.Lehi native and Sandy artist Stanley Wanlass has created the larger-than-life statue of a young Rockwell at the behest of the Lehi Historical Preservation Commission. It will be cast by Metal Letters this month and probably dedicated in the early spring.

The Rockwell statue cost $60,000 to create and cast and is being paid for by private donors and those who've bought bricks at $100 a pop for the firebrick walkway that will surround the statue.

Richard Van Wagoner spearheaded the effort to see Rockwell immortalized. As a founder of the historical preservation committee, Van Wagoner has dedicated himself to seeing that history is not lost.

He describes Rockwell as the "community's most notorious citizen of yesteryear," known for unflagging loyalty, a hair-trigger aim and a steely-eyed gaze.

He quotes Rockwell as once saying, "I never killed anyone who didn't need killing."

John Rockwell, Porter Rockwell's great-great-grandson, said he was kind of taken back by the effort but pleased Lehi is choosing to honor his admirable and unique ancestor.

"I've heard people say he was judge, jury and executioner of some of the outlaws he brought back not breathing," Rockwell said. "As often as possible, he brought these people back alive except when there wasn't a choice."

According to research and information gathered by the John Rockwell family -- many of whom live in and around Lehi today -- and Van Wagoner, Rockwell, who lived in Lehi only a few years between 1858 and 1861, may have shot as many as 100 men in his lifetime.

He sired 15 children, adopted two American Indian children and was married four times. He operated Rockwell's Station, a Pony Express and Overland Mail facility near the Point of the Mountain, where he also ran the Hot Springs Brewery Hotel, though he could neither read nor write.

He served as a guide for the U.S. Army and as a scout for a variety of traveling pioneer wagon companies. In 1850, he was appointed deputy marshal for the Utah Territory and held that position throughout his life.

Baptized shortly after the LDS Church was organized, he was the Prophet Joseph Smith's personal bodyguard in Nauvoo.

They were childhood friends and neighbors in New York and continued to be fast friends throughout the prophet's life and consequent martyrdom.

Rockwell helped destroy the anti-Mormon newspaper in Nauvoo, "The Expositor," and rowed Joseph and Hyrum Smith across the Mississippi River to prevent their arrest.

He was later arrested and charged with attempting to murder Missouri Gov. Lilburn Boggs, a man who served much distress upon Smith and his followers in the church. A reward of $1,300 was posted for him, though he didn't match the description of the shooter.

Rockwell vehemently denied the shooting and was acquitted by a grand jury for lack of evidence after spending eight to nine months in jail.

He was told by Smith never to cut his hair and he would be protected from bullet and blade. He kept his hair long until 1855, when he cut it to provide a wig for Agnes Smith, the widow of Smith's brother who had lost her hair from a bout with typhoid fever.

Consequently, he jokingly said he had difficulty controlling his desire for strong drink. He went into hiding until his hair grew back.

John Rockwell said he's thrilled to be a Porter Rockwell descendent and spends much of his time correcting inaccurate information about the colorful man.

"People either look at him as their hero or as a villain. I've spent my life correcting those who think he's a villain," Rockwell said. "For instance, a whole book has been written about him being asked to kill an adulterous woman. The woman actually died in a carriage ride 12 years after Porter died.

"Most of the sensational information about him I've found to be false information."

Such informational tidbits and historical photos of Rockwell make for an interesting souvenir calendar published in 1998 by the Lehi Historical Preservation Commission, also sold to help pay for the statue. Calendars are available from the commission.