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