The Rockwell and Smith families were close friends while living in Manchester, New York (just outside of Palmyra). Although he was eight years younger than the Prophet no one loved Joseph Smith more than Orrin Porter Rockwell.
While serving several months in a Missouri prison on false charges, Porter let his hair and beard grow long.
Once released, Porter walked over 200 miles to Nauvoo and arrived at the home of Joseph Smith during the middle of a Christmas Eve party. Not being recognized by anyone, Porter walked into the home, acted as though he were drunk, and started to make a scene. As the men of the party started to escort Porter out of the home, Joseph Smith asked them to wait a minute. Carefully looking into Porter’s eyes, the Prophet finally realized it was his friend. Joseph threw his arms around Porter and invited him to join in the festivities.
It is reported that Joseph promised Porter that night if he would remain faithful to the Church and did not cut his hair, he would be protected from bullets. Countless stories have been told of this prophecy being fulfilled.
Porter never lost his love and devotion to the Smith family. While visiting California, Porter paid a visit to the widow of Don Carlos, the youngest brother of Joseph Smith. He found her to be suffering from the typhoid fever, and as a result of her sickness, she had lost all of her hair. Porter had never cut his hair since that Christmas Eve long ago in Nauvoo and his hair now fell long over his shoulders. Without a word, Porter told her, “Few men did I love as I loved Don Carlos and his brother Joseph, and it will never be said of me that I passed up an opportunity to do his widow a favor.” He immediately went to the barber shop where he had his hair cut and made into a beautiful wig which he presented to his dear friend’s widow.
Interestingly, after the death of Don Carlos, his widow moved to California and left the church. In fact, she even changed her name so no one would know of her past association with the Church and the Smith family. Despite all this, the “Destroying Angel” still had love and compassion for her to the extent that he would cut his own hair even if he lost his prophetic protection from bullets.