Biographical Sketch of Dr. Zaphney Jeffrey Orto
August 10, 1842 – January 22, 1923

Zaphney Jeffrey Orto was born August 10, 1842, the 5th child of Leonidas Orto and Martha McElwee Orto in Somerville, Tennessee. Two years later his father, Leonidas died. He remained with his mother and was raised on the Somerville farm. (His mother remarried and had other children.) At age 18 he left the farm and worked in a store for two years, then moved to Indiana. There he begin to study medicine with Dr. S. W. Thompson, later graduating from Miami Medical College of Cincinnati Ohio in 1872 at the age 30. (He is listed as a “Legally Qualified Physician” in the American Medical Directory in both 1906 and 1909 editions.) Orto then moved to Lawrence County, Arkansas, first to Clover Bend, and after two years to Walnut Ridge.

He married Margaret Coffin (Mattie) in 1873. The marriage yielded nine children, four girls and five boys with six growing to adulthood. Martha lived to age 72, dying September 2, 1900.

While in Walnut Ridge he attended an Arkansas Medical Society Meeting in 1882 and presented a paper entitled, “Cause of Malarial Poison”. Previously the disease had been attributed to heat, moisture and decaying vegetation. He believed that a living creature, rather than gasses emitted from swamps, caused the disease. He added a portion about the dangers as well as the benefit of quinine as a treatment. Over the years as a member of the State Medical Society he presented several other papers, and writing one that was featured in the October 17, 1885 Journal of the American Medical Association. Dr. Orto served as State President of the Arkansas Medical Society in 1890, and in other state society offices: vice president and treasurer.

In September of 1883 Dr. Orto moved to Pine Bluff, Arkansas. There he built a successful practice especially as a senior surgeon for the infirmary. He was also surgeon for several railroad companies. Dr. Orto was president of Jefferson County Medical Society and president of the Pine Bluff Board of Health.

At the beginning of the Spanish American war in 1898, Dr. Orto served for a brief time as as a surgeon in a Georgia military camp. He held the rank of Major. When he resigned his post, he returned to Pine Bluff and resumed his medical practice caring for the sick and needy. His practice continued to grow and he built a large house to accommodate his growing family.

His abundant leadership skills were in demand and in 1903 he retired from medicine after 20 years of practice in Pine Bluff to become the second president of Simmons National Bank, a post he held until he died.

With all his demanding work as a physician and leader in the state and in local affairs he was “held dearly in the hearts of hundreds of families whose physician he was”.—”Dr. Orto’s life was marked by one dominating thing throughout his many and varied years of activity-service. To his God, his fellowman, to his country, his city and his state he devoted the best that was in him for nearly fifty years, working day and night in the interest of someone else.”

Dr. Orto died January 22, 1923 at the age of 80. He had practiced medicine since he was 21 or 22 years old, about 50 years, twenty of those years in Pine Bluff, Jefferson County, Arkansas. Burial is at Bellwood Cemetery in Pine Bluff.

*Obituary, Pine Bluff Daily Graphic, Jan. 23, 1923

Betty L. Battenfield March 2020