History Works Fruitville An excerpt from The Life of Colonel Jay Lynn Torrey

An excerpt from The Life of Colonel Jay Lynn Torrey

by Cherie Reavis
First published in the West Plains Gazette, Number Four, Fall 1979.

Born in Pittsfield, Illinois in 1852, the second cousin of William Howard Taft, Jay Lynn Torrey attended the University of Missouri in Columbia in the early 1870s before going to Washington University in St. Louis where he took his law degree and was admitted to the Missouri Bar in 1875. He continued to live and prosper in St. Louis for a good many years, and while there, developed the plan for the establlshment of the Appellate Court system in MIissouri which was later enacted into law.

Eventually, he left St. Louis and went to Wyoming to aid his brother Robert Torrey, in managing a cattle ranch there. He also became involved in Wyoming politics, serving as Speaker of the House in that state.

When the Spanish American War broke out, he went to the nation's capitol to personally ask President McKinley for permission to organize a regiment of Western Rough Riders, along with his friend, Col. Teddy Roosevelt. McKinley gave his consent, and Torrey quickly returned to Wyoming where he organized the 2nd U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, called Torrey's Rough Riders. On May 30, 1898, the US. War Department formally appointed him to the rank of full Colonel. After the war ended, he went to Washington D.C. where he authored the Federal Bankruptcy Bill. This bill was passed into law, and is still in effect.

In 1906, at the age of 54, he came to Howell County where he was to spend the rest of his sixty-eight years. He purchased 10,000 acres of land, described in the West Plains Journal as being fourteen miles southeast of West Plains on what was commonly known as the White Ranch (not to be confused with its southerly neighbor, the Red Ranch, so named for the color which the buildings on the land were painted). Col. Torrey renamed his large farm Fruitville, and launched a publicity campaign promoting his plans the likes of which the Ozarks has never seen, and possibly may never see again.


Always one to be well-organized, Col. Torrey had a three-phase plan for his land. First, he planned to clear the underbrush in the forested areas and seed the ground with tame grasses in order to raise livestock in large quantities ... mules, horses, goats, and sheep. Step Two was harvesting and marketing the oak timber as it matured, thus clearing the land to make way for his other ventures. Phase Three was the conversion of the 10,000 acres into small fruit-farm homes which he hoped to sell. Through this last step, the area would be populated, and the solidity of the fruit-farming enterprise assured.

Col. Torrey was a dedicated patriot. He refused to employ any man on his ranch who was not loyal to his country. Each employee and prospective owner of a fruit-farm home had to sign an agreement that they would fly the American flag. Hundreds enjoyed the big celebrations he sponsored on patriotic holidays.

After the state capitol burned in 1911, Col. Torrey, sensing an opportunity to further publicize Howell County, drew up plans for a townsite called Torreytown, to be located at Fruitvllle. The plans were complete with named streets, parks, and buildings. He then offered the land for the town plus one million dollars if the state would build its new capitol there, saying that the new site was “…a more peaceful location, where the legislators could meditate on affairs of state undisturbed by the distractions of the city.” As we all know, his generous offer was declined, but his efforts did not go without notice among the people of West Plains. The 1912 high school yearbook contained the following poem:

His name is Colonel Torrey,
you've heard his name before;
And the story of his fame has
been told from door to door.

In the Spanish War he fought,
and he did his duty well
And when in the midst of battle
he'd charge with his men
And now he's after the capitol,
we hope he'll win his tas k,
For with the capitol at Fruitville,
nothing better could we ask.

He offered a million dollars, and
a great many acres of land,
So let us all to him extend a
warm welcome hand;
For he's doing his best for the
Ozarks, the best spot in
And soon the flag of the capitol
will over it be unfurled.

- - Andrew Carmichael
Class of 1912

In October, 1920, after an engagement which had lasted for eleven years, be married Fanny Reiley (widow of Dr. Reiley). Just six weeks later, on December 4, 1920, Col. Torrey breathed his last.

It is difficult to summarise in a few words what Col. Torrey meant to this area. He invested his own personal fortune (nearly two million dollars) into the Ozark economy, developed the Iargest and best organized fruit industry in the regon, and was largely responsible for generating a new feeling of pride in country and community. Many may question why Col. Torrey did all this, and will say that it was to further his own ends. While this must certainly be trne, it is not the whole story. He was a man with a vision, and he worked hard to see it become real. His was a dream in which all could share.

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