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Zaphney Jeffrey Orto

Updated: Jun 28, 2023

Zaphney Jeffrey Orto was a surgeon and prodigious leader in Pine Bluff. He build his own private practice but he was also the second president of Simmons Bank, the State Medical Society of Arkansas, and Jefferson County Medical Society.

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Zaphney Jeffrey Orto was born on August 10, 1842 in Somerville Tennessee to Leonidas Orto and Martha G. McElwee. Two years later, his father died, and his mother raised Orto and his siblings on a farm near Somerville. In 1860, eighteen year-old Orto got a job working at a local store. In 1862, he moved to Evansville, Indiana to study medicine with Dr. S. W. Thompson. In 1872, Orto graduated from the Miami Medical College in Cincinnati, Ohio. Soon after, he moved to Clover Bend, Arkansas. He practiced medicine for two years there before moving to Walnut Ridge.

In 1873, he married Margaret Coffin. They had six children. Coffin died on September 2, 1900.

In 1882, Orto began investigating the causes of malaria. At that time, many medical professionals believed that malaria was caused by heat, moisture, and decaying vegetation. Orto believed that there was a direct connection between malaria and mosquitoes. At a meeting of the State Medical Society of Arkansas on May 31, 1882, he presented a paper on the “Cause of Malarial Poison,” He also spoke at length about the dangers and benefits of medicines used to treat malaria, like quinine. His paper was “warmly received” and accepted for approval by the Society. Orto went on to present several other papers to the State Medical Society of Arkansas over the next few years. His topics ranged from the treatment of gunshot wounds to sciatica. On October 17, 1885, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article by Orto entitled “Injections of Ether in Sciatica.”

In September 1883, Orto moved to Pine Bluff, where he established a private practice. He also became a senior surgeon at Pine Bluff’s infirmary and a surgeon for several prominent railroad companies.

In 1898, at the onset of the Spanish-American War, Orto volunteered for military service, serving as a major. On May 9, 1898, he was appointed surgeon of the Second Arkansas Volunteer Infantry. He later served as brigade surgeon at Camp George H. Thomas, a military training camp in Walker County, Georgia. On October 8, 1898, he resigned his post and returned to his private practice in Pine Bluff.

In 1890, Orto became the president of the State Medical Society of Arkansas. At his urging, the Society published a monthly journal. The journal was edited and published by a board of trustees to which Orto was appointed. He served in many other positions when necessary, including vice president and treasurer.

Orto served as president of the Jefferson County Medical Society. From 1908 to 1921, he served as president of the Pine Bluff Board of Health and the Jefferson County Board of Medical Examiners.

In 1903, Orto retired from medicine after 20 years of service. That same year he became the second president of Simmons National Bank. He served in that position until his death in 1923. In 1907, he became president of the Pine Bluff North and South Railroad Company, which had received a charter from the state to build forty-six miles of railroad from Pine Bluff to Lonoke, Arkansas. In 1908, he was elected president of the Travelers Fire Insurance Company of Pine Bluff, even though it closed that same year.

Orto died on January 22, 1923. He was buried in Bellwood Cemetery in Pine Bluff.


Written by: Ninfa O. Barnard

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