Saturday, June 05, 2010

Review: Rockwell and Borrowman, "Stories from the Life of Porter Rockwell" (reviewed by Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury)


Title: Stories from the Life of Porter Rockwell
Author: John W. Rockwell and Jerry Borrowman
Publisher: Covenant Communications Inc
Genre: Nonfiction
Year Published: 2010
Number of Pages: 176
Binding: Hardcover
ISBN-10: 1-60861-005-5
ISBN-13: 978-1-60861-005-1
Price: $18.99

Reviewed by Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury for the Association for Mormon Letters

This book is not a biography in the formal sense.  Instead it's a great little collection of stories about a man many have heard of, stories which can help bring him a little closer to those who may not have known much about him.

The stories are in sections, the first of which is about Porter's relationship with Joseph Smith.  I, for one, had not known that they were friends as boys, and that information deepened their relationship for me.  Porter was eight years younger than Joseph, and both had suffered leg injuries (which may have encouraged fellow feeling between them).  The authors  (John W. Rockwell being a great-great-grandson of Porter Rockwell) suggest that among the things that Joseph may have been referring to when he indicated that his behavior was not entirely exemplary between the time of the First Vision and the visit of Moroni could have been fights in which he protected the younger boy from being harassed and picked on for his limp.

Other sections include "Porter in the West" and "Porter and the Outlaws," a section which also has stories that the authors describe as "tall tales" but which would be fun to believe were true.  The last day of his life was also described.  The book includes a photo section with the stories, and those are also helpful.

This book would be a great introduction to the man who stood, larger than life, between Joseph Smith and those who would harm him, until that last ride to Carthage.  Joseph ordered Porter to stay behind because he had other things he needed Porter to do, and Porter was there to do them for the church and its people for the rest of his life.  One of the most poignant descriptions in the book is of Porter's mournful cries as he rode through Nauvoo, announcing the news of Joseph's death.

There is one thing to be aware of, however.  Several times the dates in the text were incorrect.  For example, in the story about Rockwell's involvement in delaying Johnston's Army (pp 119, 120) the dates given are 1847-48, when the correct dates were 1857-58.  Also, a footnote on page 111 refers to a report of Rockwell's cutting his hair for the widow of Don Carlos Smith in the Church Section of the Deseret News of 1835 (19 years before the incident happened, and well before there was a Deseret News).

Another example of poor editing was the spelling of Alexander Doniphan's name.  It was correctly spelled on page 18, but when he is referred to again on page 63, his name is misspelled "Donovan," twice.

It is to be hoped that all of the dates in the book will be more carefully checked in future editions, and that Doniphan's name will be spelled more consistently as well.

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