The Rockwell-Dibble Gunfight

A would-be killer puts Orrin Porter Rockwell, "Samson of Utah," and his supposed invincibility to the test in Lehi, Utah

Of the many famous lawmen of the American West, many were controversial figures. Mormon convert and former bodyguard to church founder, prophet, and martyr Joseph Smith, Orrin Porter Rockwell was no exception. Learn of his background and a gunfight when Loren Dibble tried to put the legend of his invincibility to an end.

Porter, as he was called, has been credited with killing more outlaws than Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday, and Tom Horn combined - a reputation which earned him the rather menacing nickname, “Destroying Angel.” Having been one of the very first converts to, and members of the burgeoning Mormon Church in New York State in 1830, he became a bodyguard to the church founder and Prophet Joseph Smith. In this role he faced continued anti-Mormon persecution and violence, leading him to hone his skills of marksmanship and fighting. At one point, his family’s home was attacked and burned to the ground, as they watched. Thereafter, he vowed to never be helpless again. While Rockwell was in his service, Joseph Smith promised him that as long as he stayed faithful ito the Church, and did not cut his hair, he too, like the Biblical figure Samson, could not be killed by any man. Smith said that “no bullet or blade can harm thee.” This promise would make Rockwell known as a miraculous modern-day Samson type of figure, and created a great deal of fame, and mythology surrounding him. After Smith’s martyrdom, Porter Rockwell made the trek out west with the rest of the Mormon Church to what would become Utah Territory.

In Utah, Rockwell quickly resumed his duties as a bodyguard to the new head of the Mormon Church, Brigham Young. He became a Deputy US Marshal and local territorial lawman, working all throughout the territories of the American West. He was known as an expert marksman who carried multiple weapons with him - most notably, two large black-powder revolvers which he could shoot simultaneously. He gained enormous notoriety, through his many successes in law enforcement. Despite his numerous violent confrontation, he was never struck by a bullet. This prompted gunslingers to come to Utah to see if they could shoot down the “Destroying Angel,” gain some notoriety of their own, and put to rest the legend of Rockwell’s Samson-like invincibility.

At this featured location, on the Main Street of Lehi, Utah, one such outlaw tried his hand at defeating Rockwell and his myth. Lehi City court documents recorded the events of June 25, 1873 as an "affray," or the “the fighting of two or more persons in a public place, and to the terror of others.” This affray began as a young outlaw named Loren Dibble approached Porter Rockwell in broad daylight, drew two guns, and emptied them at him. According to onlookers, Rockwell simply stood still, staring directly back at Dibble, without even having his composure ruffled. When Dibble had fired all of twelve shots, Rockwell drew his own two revolvers and shot at Dibble’s feet, making the young outlaw "dance" to avoid being hit by each bullet. When Rockwell had emptied both of his own guns, he walked directly up to Dibble, grabbed him by his collar, and shook him like a rag doll. Rockwell yelled into Loren Dibble’s face “If it wasn’t for the fact that I know who your father really was, I’d have killed you!” Rockwell threw him to the ground, and walked away. This comment about Dibble’s father was not understood at the time, by those present, but has more recently come to be understood through genealogy and DNA tracing that Dibble was the son of Joseph Smith, through one of Smith’s polygamous wives. Few other outlaws were given the benefit of having their lives spared by Porter Rockwell. Rockwell was known to kill too soon, sometimes without sufficient justification for taking a life.

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123 Center St, Lehi, UT 84043