Mormon Gun History

Jan. 23, 1855 Birth of John Moses Browning in Ogden, Utah.
John Moses Browning, sometimes referred to as the "father of modern firearms," is born in Ogden, Utah. Many of the guns manufactured by companies whose names evoke the history of the American West-Winchester, Colt, Remington, and Savage-were actually based on John Browning's designs. The son of a talented gunsmith, John Browning began experimenting with his own gun designs as a young man. When he was 24 years old, he received his first patent, for a rifle that Winchester manufactured as its Single Shot Model 1885. Impressed by the young man's inventiveness, Winchester asked Browning if he could design a lever-action-repeating shotgun. Browning could and did, but his efforts convinced him that a pump-action mechanism would work better, and he patented his first pump model shotgun in 1888. Fundamentally, all of Browning's manually-operated repeating rifle and shotgun designs were aimed at improving one thing: the speed and reliability with which gun users could fire multiple rounds-whether shooting at game birds or other people. Lever and pump actions allowed the operator to fire a round, operate the lever or pump to quickly eject the spent shell, insert a new cartridge, and then fire again in seconds. By the late 1880s, Browning had perfected the manual repeating weapon; to make guns that fired any faster, he would somehow have to eliminate the need for slow human beings to actually work the mechanisms. But what force could replace that of the operator moving a lever or pump? Browning discovered the answer during a local shooting competition when he noticed that reeds between a man firing and his target were violently blown aside by gases escaping from the gun muzzle. He decided to try using the force of that escaping gas to automatically work the repeating mechanism. Browning began experimenting with his idea in 1889. Three years later, he received a patent for the first crude fully automatic weapon that captured the gases at the muzzle and used them to power a mechanism that automatically reloaded the next bullet. In subsequent years, Browning refined his automatic weapon design. When U.S. soldiers went to Europe during WWI, many of them carried Browning Automatic Rifles, as well as Browning's deadly machine guns. During a career spanning more than five decades, Browning's guns went from being the classic weapons of the American West to deadly tools of world war carnage. Amazingly, since Browning's death in 1926, there have been no further fundamental changes in the modern firearm industry.
Joseph Smith's Pepperbox

In the Church History Museum near Temple Square, located inside a glass case, resides a pair of 19th century pistols and a walking stick. The placard reads, in part, as follows,
"Joseph’s Pepperbox Pistol and Hyrum’s Single Shot Pistol. These guns were used by both men for their defense during the attack at Carthage"

These were the guns that were smuggled into the Carthage Jail while Joseph Smith, Hyrum and their friends awaited their fate. On the morning of June 27, 1844, Cyrus Wheelock visited the jail.

The morning being a little rainy, favoured his wearing an overcoat, in the side pocket of which he was enabled to carry a six-shooter, and he passed the guard unmolested. During his visit in the prison he slipped the revolver into Joseph’s pocket. Joseph examined it, and asked Wheelock if he had not better retain it for his own protection.
This was a providential circumstance, as most other persons had been very rigidly searched. Joseph then handed the single barrel pistol, which had been given him by John S. Fullmer, to his brother Hyrum, and said, “You may have use for this.” Brother Hyrum observed, “I hate to use such things, or to see them used.” “So do I,” said Joseph, “but we may have to, to defend ourselves;” upon this Hyrum took the pistol.

Although it was referred to as a “six shooter,” the pepper-box pistol was not a revolver in the normal sense. It incorporated six individual barrels, it was difficult to aim and tended to be unreliable. The June 2013 Ensign features a painting Greater Love Hath No Man, by Casey Childs. The artwork features all three items in the display case. Joseph, Hyrum and Willard Richards are attempting to hold the door shut as the mob attempts to enter the room. John Taylor is holding his walking stick. In Hyrum’s left pocket is the single shot pistol brought into the jail by Fullmer, and in Joseph’s left pocket, clearly visible, is the pepper-box pistol given to him by Wheelock.

John Taylor records this:
"I shall never forget the deep feeling of sympathy and regard manifested in the countenance of Brother Joseph as he drew nigh to Hyrum, and, leaning over him, exclaimed, 'Oh! my poor, dear brother Hyrum!' He, however, instantly arose, and with a firm, quick step, and a determined expression of countenance, approached the door, and pulling the six-shooter left by Brother Wheelock from his pocket, opened the door slightly, and snapped the pistol six successive times; only three of the barrels, however, were discharged. I afterwards understood that two or three were wounded by these discharges..."
It was Three.

There are some who argue and go to great lengths to say Joseph Smith did not die a martyr because he attempted to defend himself. I say that premise is pure, unadulterated hogwash! The definition of the word "martyr" is a person who is killed because of their religious or other beliefs. I am grateful that a Prophet of God showed us the great example of self-defense. Clearly he died only and because of his religious beliefs. I think it's at best, dishonest, and at worst, cowardly, to try to declare anything else. You don't have to believe Mormon doctrine. You don't even have to believe Joseph to be a prophet, but to try to lie about what a martyr is, or to try and make anyone believe Joseph Smith was not a martyr is stupidity.


A notorious gun-slinger, wanted man, and devout Church member, Orrin Porter Rockwell led a life of paradox. His lethal accuracy with a shotgun and policy to “always shoot first . . . that way they know you’re armed” made his time as a lawman controversial at best. Charged with murder or attempted murder on three occasions, Porter was acquitted twice and died before the last charge could come to courts. Despite his rough-and-tumble attitude, Rockwell remained unshakably faithful to the Church and its leaders until his death in June 1878, serving as a body guard to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. The incongruities and myths surrounding Rockwell’s life have drawn the fascination of Mormons and non-Mormons alike. But here are a few curious tidbits you might not have known about Orrin Porter Rockwell.

1. He was known as the “Destroying Angel”

Porter Rockwell killed more outlaws than Wyatt Earp, Doc Holladay, Tom Horn, and Bat Masterson combined, earning him the menacing title, the “Destroying Angel.” Rockwell’s hawk-like vision was so acute he could spot landmarks along the trail days before his fellow pioneers. His accuracy was so deadly he once shot a bank robber attempting to escape on horseback in the pitch-black of night. It didn’t take long for Rockwell’s legendary abilities to draw the attention, and sometimes even the competition, of outlaws all throughout the Wild West.

2. He assisted in Joseph Smith’s attempted jail break from Liberty Jail

Porter Rockwell and Joseph Smith grew up on neighboring farms in Palmyra, New York. Despite their eight years difference in age, both men had a noticeable limp that cemented their close friendship—Joseph’s resulted from a childhood surgery and Rockwell’s resulted from an improperly set bone that left one leg two inches shorter than the other. When Joseph became imprisoned at Liberty Jail, Rockwell served as his personal messenger and smuggler, sneaking two augers into the jail that the prophet used to chisel a hole through the four-foot wall. When Joseph Smith was finally released from Liberty Jail, he had progressed so far in his digging that only a few inches stood between the inmates and freedom. Rockwell remained close to Joseph until the end of the Prophet’s life, saying when he learned of Joseph’s death, “They killed the only friend I ever had.”

3. He never cut his hair or beard

After a nine-month stint in Missouri awaiting trial for the attempted assassination of Governor Lilburn Boggs (the same Governor Boggs who signed the Mormon extermination order), Rockwell showed up at Joseph Smith’s house in Nauvoo on Christmas night, shaggy and skeletal. Joseph Smith ordered the gruff-looking ruffian out only to find it was his childhood friend, Porter Rockwell. After hearing Rockwell’s story, Joseph Smith made a Samson-like prophecy: as long as Rockwell did not cut his hair and remained faithful to the Gospel, his enemies could never touch him. Rockwell lived by the prophet’s promise, cutting his hair only once to make a wig for Joseph’s widowed sister-in-law recovering from typhoid fever. And until his dying day, the prophecy held true for Rockwell who escaped dozens of showdowns with notable marksmen without a scratch. On one such occasion, sharp-shooter Loren Dibble unloaded both his guns at Rockwell on Lehi Main Street in broad daylight without even ruffling Rockwell’s composure.

(Rockwell always professed his innocence in the Governor Boggs’ assassination attempt, using as his evidence, “I’ve never shot at anybody. If I shoot, they get shot. He’s still alive, isn’t he?”)

4. He went to jail on the prophet's orders

Though a trail blazer for the pioneer’s moving west, Rockwell returned to Nauvoo on an unusual mission for Brigham Young: to shift persecution from the poverty stricken Saints left behind to himself. Rockwell was to accomplish this feat by getting arrested for the murder of Frank Worrell, a man Rockwell shot in self-defense while serving as a deputy. Despite his previous harrowing imprisonment and acquittal, Rockwell obeyed the prophet’s wishes to their fullest. In a stunt crazy enough to capture everyone’s attention, Rockwell barricaded himself in an old boardinghouse after chasing an old enemy through Nauvoo’s streets while firing his pistols above the man’s head. The plan worked: the Saints remained peacefully in Nauvoo until the spring and Rockwell was acquitted.

5. He was involved in the mysterious Aiken brother murders

While Rockwell insisted he “never killed anyone who didn’t need killing,” several murky incidences clouded his reputation as a deputy and later as a sheriff in Utah. Among these cases was the mysterious murder of the Aiken brothers. Charged by Brigham Young with the duty to slow down Johnson’s army using any nonviolent means necessary, Rockwell spent a number of nights on the plains knocking out wheel pins and scattering horses. But as the encroaching army neared its target, tensions rose to a furious pitch. The Aiken brothers arrived in Utah on friendly terms with the army and with the intent to set up a gambling house and brothel for the soldiers. Afraid the Aiken brothers knew too much about Mormon preparations against the army, Brigham Young charged Rockwell to escort four of the brothers back to California. Two of the brothers reappeared in Nephi days later, blood-smeared and tattered. Apparently, their two brothers had been killed somewhere in the desert between Nevada and Utah. The two remaining brothers were later killed as they attempted to return to Salt Lake. Some blamed the deaths on Indians, others condemned Porter Rockwell, but the truth is, the murder of the Aiken brothers remains a mystery to this day.

6. He shot Brigham Young’s nephew

After stealing a horse from outside the bishop’s house, Lot Huntington—nephew to Brigham Young—fled to Camp Floyd where he met up with two other petty outlaws. An expert tracker, Rockwell followed the trail all the way to a Pony Express station in Tooele, arriving in the middle of the night. At sunup, the situation quickly escalated into a standoff. The outcome: Lot Huntington tried taking on Porter Rockwell and ended up shot clean through the heart.

7. He was a faithful Mormon to the end of his life

Despite his no-nonsense demeanor and shady past, Porter Rockwell was a faithful member of the Church until the day he died. He was one of the first members of the Church, baptized in the June of 1830 just a few months after the Church was organized. Later in his life, he was ordained as a member of the Seventy and held the position throughout his life. Amidst the slander and accusations stirred up by his sudden death on June 9, 1878, President Joseph F. Smith praised Porter Rockwell in his eulogy, saying, “They say he was a murderer; if he was he was the friend of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, and he was faithful to them, and to his covenants, and he has gone to Heaven . . . clothed with immortality and eternal life, and crowned with all glory which belongs to a departed saint.”


Mormon Battalion
In July 1846, under the authority of U.S. Army Captain James Allen and with the encouragement of Mormon leader Brigham Young, the Mormon Battalion was mustered in at Council Bluffs, Iowa Territory. The battalion was the direct result of Brigham Young's correspondence on 26 January 1846 to Jesse C. Little, presiding elder over the New England and Middle States Mission. Young instructed Little to meet with national leaders in Washington, D.C., and to seek aid for the migrating Latter-day Saints, the majority of whom were then in the Iowa Territory. In response to Young's letter, Little journeyed to Washington, arriving on 21 May 1846, just eight days after Congress had declared war on Mexico.
Little met with President James K. Polk on 5 June 1846 and urged him to aid migrating Mormon pioneers by employing them to fortify and defend the West. The president offered to aid the pioneers by permitting them to raise a battalion of five hundred men, who were to join Colonel Stephen W. Kearny, Commander of the Army of the West, and fight for the United States in the Mexican War. Little accepted this offer.
Colonel Kearny designated Captain James Allen, later promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, to raise five companies of volunteer soldiers from the able-bodied men between the ages of eighteen and forty-five in the Mormon encampments in Iowa. On 26 June 1846 Allen arrived at the encampment of Mt. Pisgah. He was treated with suspicion as many believed that the raising of a battalion was a plot to bring trouble to the migrating Saints.
Allen journeyed from Mt. Pisgah to Council Bluffs, where on 1 July 1846 he allayed Mormon fears by giving permission for the Saints to encamp on United States lands if the Mormons would raise the desired battalion. Brigham Young accepted this, recognizing that the enlistment of the battalion was the first time the government had stretched forth its arm to aid the Mormons.
On 16 July 1846 some 543 men enlisted in the Mormon Battalion (Officially the 1st Iowa Volunteers). From among these men Brigham Young selected the commissioned officers; they included Jefferson Hunt, Captain of Company A; Jesse D. Hunter, Captain of Company B; James Brown, Captain of Company C; Nelson Higgins, Captain of Company D; and Daniel C. Davis, Captain of Company E. Among the most prominent non-Mormon military officers immediately associated with the battalion march were Lt. Col. James Allen, First Lt. Andrew Jackson Smith, Lt. Col. Philip St. George Cooke, and Dr. George Sanderson. Also accompanying the battalion were approximately thirty-three women, twenty of whom served as laundresses, and fifty-one children.
The battalion marched from Council Bluffs on 20 July 1846, arriving on 1 August 1846 at Fort Leavenworth (Kansas), where they were outfitted for their trek to Santa Fe. Battalion members drew their arms and accoutrements, as well as a clothing allowance of forty-two dollars, at the fort. Since a military uniform was not mandatory, many of the soldiers sent their clothing allowances to their families in the Mormon refugee encampments in Iowa.
Each soldier was issued the following: 1 Harpers Ferry smoothbore musket, 1 infantry cartridge box, 1 cartridge box plate, 1 cartridge box belt, 1 bayonet scabbard, 1 bayonet scabbard belt, 1 bayonet scabbard belt plate, 1 waist belt, 1 waist belt plate, 1 musket gun sling, 1 brush and pike set, 1 musket screwdriver, 1 musket wiper, 1 extra flint cap. Each company was also allotted 5 sabers for the officers, 10 musket ball screws, 10 musket spring vices, and 4 Harpers Ferry rifles.
Battalion members took cash in lieu of uniforms, using the money to support their families and their church during a very hard period. Consequently, they did not wear uniforms.
The march from Fort Leavenworth was delayed by the sudden illness of Colonel Allen. Capt. Jefferson Hunt was instructed to begin the march to Santa Fe; he soon received word that Colonel Allen was dead. Allen's death caused confusion regarding who should lead the battalion to Santa Fe. Lt. A.J. Smith arrived from Fort Leavenworth claiming the lead, and he was chosen the commanding officer by the vote of battalion officers. The leadership transition proved difficult for many of the enlisted men, as they were not consulted about the decision.
Smith and his accompanying surgeon, a Dr. Sanderson, have been described in journals as the "heaviest burdens" of the battalion. Under Smith's dictatorial leadership and with Sanderson's antiquated prescriptions, the battalion marched to Santa Fe. On this trek the soldiers suffered from excessive heat, lack of sufficient food, improper medical treatment, and forced long-distance marches.
The first division of the Mormon Battalion approached Santa Fe on 9 October 1846. Their approach was heralded by Col. Alexander Doniphan, who ordered a one-hundred-gun salute in their honor. At Santa Fe, Smith was relieved of his command by Lt. Col. Philip St. George Cooke. Cooke, aware of the rugged trail between Santa Fe and California and also aware that one sick detachment had already been sent from the Arkansas River to Fort Pueblo in Colorado, ordered the remaining women and children to accompany the sick of the battalion to Pueblo for the winter. Three detachments consisting of 273 people eventually were sent to Pueblo for the winter of 1846-47.
The remaining soldiers, with four wives of officers, left Santa Fe for California on 19 October 1846. They journeyed down the Rio Grande del Norte and eventually crossed the Continental Divide on 28 November 1846. While moving up the San Pedro River in present-day Arizona, their column was attacked by a herd of wild cattle. In the ensuing fight, a number of bulls were killed and two men were wounded. Following the "Battle of the Bulls," the battalion continued their march toward Tucson, where they anticipated a possible battle with the Mexican soldiers garrisoned there. At Tucson, the Mexican defenders temporarily abandoned their positions and no conflict ensued.
On 21 December 1846 the battalion encamped on the Gila River. They crossed the Colorado River into California on 9 and 10 January 1847. By 29 January 1847 they were camped at the Mission of San Diego, about five miles from General Kearny's quarters. That evening Colonel Cooke rode to Kearny's encampment and reported the battalion's condition. On 30 January 1847 Cooke issued orders enumerating the accomplishments of the Mormon Battalion. "History may be searched in vain for an equal march of infantry. Half of it has been through a wilderness where nothing but savages and wild beasts are found, or deserts where, for lack of water, there is no living creature."
During the remainder of their enlistment, some members of the battalion were assigned to garrison duty at either San Diego, San Luis Rey, or Ciudad de los Angeles. Other soldiers were assigned to accompany General Kearny back to Fort Leavenworth. All soldiers, whether en route to the Salt Lake Valley via Pueblo or still in Los Angeles, were mustered out of the United States Army on 16 July 1847. Eighty-one men chose to reenlist and serve an additional eight months of military duty under Captain Daniel C. Davis in Company A of the Mormon Volunteers. The majority of the soldiers migrated to the Salt Lake Valley and were reunited with their pioneering families.
Following their discharge, many men helped build flour mills and sawmills in northern California. Some of them were among the first to discover gold at Sutter's Mill. Men from Captain Davis's Company A were responsible for opening the first wagon road over the southern route from California to Utah in 1848.
Historic sites associated with the battalion include the Mormon Battalion Memorial Visitor's Center in San Diego, California; Fort Moore Pioneer Memorial in Los Angeles, California; and the Mormon Battalion Monument in Memory Grove, Salt Lake City, Utah. Monuments relating to the battalion are also located in New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado, and trail markers have been placed on segments of the battalion route.
The men of the Mormon Battalion are honored for their willingness to fight for the United States as loyal American citizens. Their march of some 2,000 miles from Council Bluffs to California is one of the longest military marches in history. Their participation in the early development of California by building Fort Moore in Los Angeles, building a courthouse in San Diego, and making bricks and building houses in southern California contributed to the growth of the West.
Battalion members carried the US Model 1816 Flintlock Smoothbore Musket manufactured by Harpers Ferry Arsenal in 1827.
The 1816 musket model was produced from 1816 until 1844 by Harpers Ferry, Springfield Armory and various other contractors. The 9-1/2 pound musket had the highest production of any US Flintlock musket and was the last flintlock martial arm to be produced. In total, all US government productions of the M1816 were 325,000 muskets produced at Springfield, Massachusetts and 350,000 muskets produced at Harper's Ferry in addition to 146,000 produced by other contractors. It served the US Army over 50 years and in two major armed conflicts. It saw service in the Mexican war in its flintlock version and in the US Civil War in both flintlock and percussion versions.
The flintlock ignition system employed a piece of flint clamped into the top of the musket hammer. When fired, the hammer fell forward, causing the flint to strike a spring-held vertical piece of steel called a frizzen. As the steel snapped back, the resulting sparks were forced downward to a priming charge of gunpowder. The ignition of this powder passed fire through a pin-sized hole and ignited the powder charge. The advent of the small brass percussion cap in the 1830s, with its self-contained explosive charge, eliminated the need for flint, steel, and priming powder and would eventually make flintlock arms obsolete.
It had a one piece full stock of walnut. The furniture and barrel were left in the white or browned depending on manufacturer and lot. The barrel was 42" long with a .69 caliber smoothbore (no rifling). The casehardened lock plate was marked with an eagle over "US" and dated 1816 on the tail. The 1816 had no front or rear sight. The bayonet lug was on top of the barrel at the muzzle. The three steel barrel bands were retained with barrel band retaining springs. A steel ramrod with button shaped head was stored under the barrel. The musket was converted from flintlock to percussion between about 1840-1860.
The earliest models of the 1816, including those dubbed the "Type I" musket, usually dated around 1817, featured a flat beveled lockplate and steel pan. There seems to be some variations between the placement of the bayonet lugs on the barrel, with some being produced for the 1812 bayonet and others for the 1816.

The next change of the 1816, the "Type II" muskets, produced 1822-31, are often referred to as the "National Armory Brown". It was called thus because of the browned finish on all metal parts except the lock and the sling swivel on trigger guard. These are often mistaken for "M1822" or "M1822" muskets.

The "Type III" muskets, produced 1831-44, are referred to as the "National Army Bright" models. Differences included a strengthened sling swivel and a bright finish on all metal parts.
A good deal is known about the Model 1816 flintlock muskets that were issued to the Mormon Battalion in August 1846 at Fort Leavenworth thanks to surviving weapons maintained by the LDS Museum of Church History and Art. These weapons have been authenticated by Battalion experts and are periodically displayed for the public by museum curators. All of the surviving Mormon Battalion Model 1816's in the LDS Museum collection are Type II weapons, stamped “Harpers Ferry” on their casehardened lock plates and dated “1827.”
Some US Model 1804 Rifles manufactured by Harpers Ferry Arsenal were also issued to the Battalion.