History of Rice
Navarro County, Texas


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History of Rice
Originally published in The Rice Rustler, Thursday, Feb 13, 1930
Reprinted in "The Navarro County Scroll", 1957
Reprinted with permission of the Navarro County Historical Society

The following was presented at the third meeting of the Navarro County Historical Society,
August, 1957, Corsicana, Texas by Mrs. (Maud Sessions Lackey) A.G. Elliott
Extracted by Ann Marcy


(The following history of Rice was written by Grafton Goodwyn of Chicago. The history was written when he was a student in Rice High School several years ago, but has recently been revised and sent to the Rustler by him. –Ed.)

History of Rice

Before this section of the country was settled, it was inhabited by the Tehuacanas and Keechi Indians. This was the borderline between the woodland and prairie Indians and was not a safe place for the headquarters of any tribe.

The Kickapoos, who lived east of the Trinity, occasionally made an excursion westward. The woodland Indians were usually friendly, but the prairie Indians were a constant source of annoyance. As late as 1854 small herds of wild ponies traveled across the country. It was about this time that the last buffalo was seen in Ellis County.

Mr. Burl Edmondson, a civil war veteran and one of the early settlers of Navarro County came here in 1854. In 1857, he carried the mail between Waxahachie and Athens on a pony. He frequently ran across a deer in the course of his day’s work and would stray far from his regular route in an effort to run it down. He says that the mail was not so cumbersome since it usually consisted of from three to five letters.

Quite a few settlers came in the sixties. At this time Chatfield was an important trading center and Porter’s Bluff was the main shipping point, the Trinity being navigable with flatboats for a part of the year.

In 1872 there were about a dozen settlements within four miles of here. Mr. Lucian Lockhart, E.G. Sessions, J.M. Bartlett, Ben Langham, I.B. Sessions, W.D. Haynie and Major Rose each owned large farms. Cotton was the staple crop, though a good many cattle and horses were raised. There were no fences and all the livestock grazed on the open prairie. Prairie grass grew so luxuriantly that when a grass fire started it would sometimes sweep for miles before it could be checked. They were stopped only by flat breaking along stretches in front of the fire.

The few settlers who lived here did most of their trading in Corsicana. A shopping trip to Corsicana meant a long, but not at all unpleasant, wagon ride over the gently rolling hills and broad valleys soon to be discolored by fences and buildings. The most interesting and spectacular thing in the entire county was the brick courthouse. It came into view a short time before the journeys end.

In 1872, the H and TC railroad was built through here. One of the owners of the road, William Marsh Rice, for whom this town was named, gave some land for a church and cemetery.

The same year, the first business firm in Rice was established. Louis B. Haynie and B.M. Clopton, who were in business in Chatfield, dissolved partnership as soon as the railroad was built and Mr. Haynie came to Rice and went into business with Rev. Jerry Ward. They put up a two-story wooden structure on the site of Loop and Walker store. A general store was kept in the lower story and a hotel was kept in the upper one. Soon after Mr. Clopton came to Rice and went into the drug business. He built his store just across the street from Haynie and Ward. The Rice post office was established Oct. 2, 1872, with J.C. Bartlett as postmaster.

In 1875, the Haynie and Ward firm went broke. At about the same time their gin burned. The post office, which had been in their store, was taken over on Nov. 23, 1875 by Mr. William Holmes who owned a store just west of the Haynie and Ward.

In the summer of 1875, 10 of the citizens of Rice gave money for the erection of a building to serve as a church and school house. These 10 citizens were W. M. Holmes, Jim Mitchem, J. A. Clopton, I. B. Sessions, B. M. Clopton, W. D. Haynie, J. A. Ward, L. B. Haynie, J. M. Bartlett and E.G. Sessions. The building was constructed on the lot now occupied by the Methodist Church. School was taught in it on weekdays and church was held there on Sunday when there was anyone to preach. Traveling preachers of any denomination were welcomed there. Mrs. J.A. Lackey, who is the only person now living in Rice that attended that school, has written a sketch describing the opening days of that school.

"This first Monday in October 1875, the first school ever taught in Rice was opened in a new wooden frame building, the first ever built in a little new village for that purpose. There were very few children living in Rice at that time, and the school drew its patronage from several miles out in the country and some boarding pupils from other towns. Our instructor, Dr. J. A. Ward, was a minister of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, a scholarly gentleman with an A.M. degree from a noted university. He taught 40 or 50 pupils, little tots of seven or eight years to young men 22 and 23 years old, until the first public school opened in November of that year. Then Mrs. Ward, Dr. Ward’s wife, was his able assistant.

"Some families from the northern states had found homes in this county, also several families from Galveston. Town, school house, pupils, teacher all new that first day, it was a day in which we were busy getting acquainted and adjusting ourselves to new conditions.

"Those were days when girls wore calico dresses and gingham sunbonnets. They were by no means a dull, ignorant class of young people. A number of them with keen perception and bright intellects, were a pride and joy to their teacher. Some of them afterwards attended colleges and universities. Several of the boys made professional men.

"Dr. Ward inspired his pupils to greater and nobler things. He has long since gone to his reward, but I am sure his good influence still lives."

 

Rice has the distinction of being one of the few towns that has never had a saloon. A small amount of whiskey was sold in grocery stores until 1876, but there was no regular saloon. In 1876, Mr. Fletcher Mitchem drew up a petition which provided that no intoxicating liquor should be sold within three miles of Rice.

Except for one occasion the increase of population in Rice has been very slow and even. In this particular instance the population was almost doubled in one day. One morning in December 1877 a train stopped here which carried about 100 new settlers who had come from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. This train was of the conventional type with the exaggerated smokestack. It could run at the enormous rate of 35 miles an hour and could scare all the cows of the countryside so that they wouldn’t give their milk. These settlers had heard much of the lovely sunshine of Texas and were looking for a good place to settle. Rice proved to be the most attractive place they had seen so far. They decided to give it a trial at least. A number of them stayed at the hotel run by Haynie and Ward for the first few days.

On the morning after their arrival, the ground was covered with snow. This was a great disappointment to them, especially to one young man of a poetic temperament, who was among those staying at the hotel. Early that morning he walked out on the veranda to view the landscape. The scene, which met his eyes, reminded him of his old home up north, and he became engulfed in a deep state of depression. Suddenly he burst into poetry. He spoke in desperate and impassioned tones that would have done credit to any professional tragedian. It is not known exactly what he said, but it ran something like this: "Tell me though in mournful numbers, this is but an empty dream. Far through the boundless sky, no gleam. Of light no breath, nor motion. As idle as a frozen ship upon a frozen ocean."

Most of the new settlers left Rice within a few months.

At this time Rice had two doctors, Dr. (J.A.) McGee and Dr. Melton. The first doctor to settle here was named Martin. At that time all other doctors went to see their patients on horseback, but this one always walked. Horses were entirely too slow for him. He could very often be seen hurrying across the prairie to see a patient. Dr. Martin lived in Rice only a few years. Dr. McGee moved here in 1877, and Dr. Sloan in 1884. They had an office together for some time on the second floor of Mr. J.A. Lackey’s store. Dr. Carter moved to Rice in 1913.

By 1890 the town had grown so that there was an urgent need for a new and larger school building. This need was provided for in a short time. A sum of $3,000 was raised by donation and the building was ready for occupancy in the fall of that year.

The population of Rice in 1900 was 268. Of course the white population in the rural districts was much greater than it is now. There were about 12 business establishments here then. One merchant, Mr. J.A. Lackey, sold ice. There were no refrigerators then and it was sold in very small quantities, usually three-pound chunks at five cents each.

In May 1901, about one third of the business part of town was swept away by a fire. Four business houses were burned, which represented a loss of about $12,000.

In 1898 the first Rice newspaper, The Rice Enterprise, came into existence, but was given up after a few months. In 1901, Clarence Urban edited the first Rice Rustler. The Rustler has been published regularly from then up to the present time and is a paper of which any town would be proud.

The year 1912 was an important one in the history of Rice. The Dallas-Corsicana division of the Texas Electric Railway system was completed, giving the town a very convenient means of transportation to other towns. During the summer of that year, the new school building was completed at a cost of more than $16,000. On the second day of December 1912, an election was held in Rice. A majority voted to incorporate. Another election was held a short time afterward to elect city officials. J.W. South was elected mayor and C. M. Loop, A. W. Christian and P. F. Halbert were elected aldermen.

When the U.S. declared war on Germany in April 1917, a number of young men of Rice immediately volunteered and were trained in various camps over the state. Several men enlisted in the navy. Will A. Bold, who was in the Quartermaster Corps, was killed in battle Nov. 12, 1917, and is buried in France. Robert Wason enlisted in the Navy in May 1917 and died in training at Great Lakes, Ill. June 28, 1917.

During the four Liberty Loan drives and the Victory Loan drive, $60,000 worth of Liberty Bonds and $10,000 in war saving stamps were sold in the banking district including Rice, Chatfield and Tupelo. In the third Liberty Loan drive, this district was the first in Navarro County to "go over the top".

The Rice post office was advanced from fourth class to third class April 1, 1918.

On the night of Oct. 1, 1923, occurred the most destructive fire that the town had ever seen. The fire originated in and destroyed a restaurant belonging to Mr. Jeff Spencer. It also destroyed the barbershop of P.T. Irwin and the grocery store belonging to A. R. Jackson.

At present Rice has a population of between 600 and 700 and has no hopes of becoming a very large town unless a real oil boom comes.

A new highway through here is under construction and will afford an even better means of communication with Ennis, Corsicana and the larger cities.

 


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