Torrey, Ellsworth (1830–unknown)

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: Biography

Published: August 1, 1995

Updated: January 16, 2019

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Ellsworth Torrey, rancher, was born in Connecticut in 1830. He was the first Anglo-American cattleman to settle in the vicinity of Tascosa in Oldham County. He was approaching fifty when he decided to give up the life of a Yankee sea captain and, with the backing of a Boston bank, seek his fortune in cattle and sheep. Accordingly, in 1876 Torrey moved to the Panhandle and settled on Skunk Arroyo near Alamocitos Creek, at the south bank of the Canadian River. He had in his range some excellent springs and the twin peaks which still bear his name. Although he allegedly started out with sheep, Torrey soon exchanged these for 4,500 cattle after the arrival of other open-range outfits. Torrey leased much of his land from Jot Gunter and W. B. Munson, Sr., of Sherman. After constructing a sturdy rock house, consisting of a large living room, three bedrooms, a dining hall, and a kitchen, he brought to Texas his wife ("a refined gentlewoman" from Massachusetts), two sons (Charles and William), and two daughters. From Boston they freighted in fine furniture, rugs, and hangings, to add eastern decor to the otherwise rustic house. Charles, the oldest son, was a fairly apt pupil in the cattle business, and by 1880 the family had acquired about 25,000 cattle, which bore a TS-connected brand. Legend has it that Torrey's unpleasant experience with Billy the Kid (see MCCARTY, HENRY) and his outlaw gang prompted him to sell his holdings and return his family to Boston. The story relates that the Kid's men rode up to the Torrey ranchhouse one day without their leader and demanded food from Mrs. Torrey and her daughters. They were served but showed no appreciation for the hospitality and insulted the family. Captain Torrey thus indignantly ran the ruffians off his property. When Billy heard of this, he waited at Tascosa until a few days later, when Torrey came in for supplies. The Kid stopped him at gunpoint in front of Henry Kimball's blacksmith shop and demanded a public apology for insulting his men. Unarmed, Torrey swallowed his pride and apologized. He returned home a broken man, amid the jeers of the toughs. The episode, which has several variations, was supposed to have occurred in 1878. However, since Torrey and his sons were listed in the 1880 census report, it is not likely that the Captain's loss of face to Billy the Kid caused him to depart at once. Not until 1881 did William McDole Lee purchase Torrey's land, cattle, and ranchhouse, complete with all its furnishings. Subsequently the house became the second headquarters for the LS Ranch outfit. LS foreman Jordan E. McAllister brought his bride to this house in 1886. In the 1980s the ruins of its thirty-inch-thick rubble-stone walls were on the property of the Mansfield Ranch. The Torrey Peaks, said to have been used as hideouts by Indians, Comancheros, and outlaws, are on the neighboring Quien Sabe Ranch of R. H. Fulton. Nothing more is known of Torrey after he left the Panhandle in 1881; presumably he spent his remaining years in Boston.

Ernest R. Archambeau, "The First Federal Census in the Panhandle, 1880," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 23 (1950). Paul H. Carlson, Texas Woolybacks: The Range Sheep and Goat Industry (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1982). Laura V. Hamner, Short Grass and Longhorns (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1943). John L. McCarty, Maverick Town: The Story of Old Tascosa (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1946; enlarged ed. 1968). Oldham County Historical Commission, Oldham County (Dallas: Taylor, 1981). Pauline D. and R. L. Robertson, Panhandle Pilgrimage: Illustrated Tales Tracing History in the Texas Panhandle (Canyon, Texas: Staked Plains, 1976; 2d ed., Amarillo: Paramount, 1978). Dulcie Sullivan, The LS Brand (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968).


  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Ranchers and Cattlemen

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

H. Allen Anderson, “Torrey, Ellsworth,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 20, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 1, 1995
January 16, 2019