Sunday, November 29, 2020
Birthday of Henry Mower Rice
At Home Family Fun:
Watch the Landmark Center’s Virtual Tour of Rice Park, which was originally donated to the City of Saint Paul by Henry Rice.
Then physically visit Rice Park in Saint Paul for an Sunday afternoon family walk.
I could not find any children’s books about Henry Rice or Rice Park. Depending on your children’s age and interest level you could share the information we printed below from MNopedia.
Serve a kid-friendly Rice bowl recipe.
Dinner Conversation Starter: How many other Saint Paul and Minnesota places can you think of that are named after Henry Rice?
As a trader, businessman, treaty negotiator, and legislator, Henry Mower Rice played a crucial role in Minnesota’s statehood and the development of St. Paul. At the same time, Rice was responsible for policies that benefited himself and his business partners at the expense of Minnesota’s Indigenous populations.
Henry Mower Rice was born in Waitsfield, Vermont, in 1816. After briefly studying law in Virginia, he moved to Michigan in 1834 and worked as a surveyor for the Sault Ste. Marie canal project.
In 1839, Rice began working for the American Fur Company (AFC) at Fort Snelling, assisting sutler Franklin Steele in supplying goods to the fort’s soldiers, as well as with French and Métis traders and Indigenous trappers. In 1842, AFC’s regional agents, Henry Sibley and Hercules Dousman, worked with Rice after he was assigned to Fort Atkinson in Iowa Territory, where the Ho-Chunk had been removed from Wisconsin Territory.
Rice quickly grew wealthy through the fur trade and land speculation. By the time he was thirty, he had built connections with the Ho-Chunk and Ojibwe through fluency in multiple languages and a canny understanding of the gift system. In 1846, these connections paid off for Rice when the Ho-Chunk asked him to represent them in Washington for the Treaty of Fond Du Lac. As white settler-colonists encroached on their Iowa holdings, they elected Rice to choose suitable land for hunting and farming. He selected land at Long Prairie, where he had just acquired rights to control the trade.
Rice negotiated treaties with the Ojibwe in 1847 at Fond Du Lac, in 1854 at La Pointe, and finally in 1887. In exchange for a lucrative federal contract to return hundreds of Ho-Chunk who had abandoned Long Prairie for $70 per head, Rice, a Democrat, supported a delegate for Whig Zachary Taylor in 1849. This was likely cheaper and certainly more diplomatic than Sibley and Alexander Ramsey’s alternative of deploying soldiers, but Rice caused resentment by keeping these elected officials in the dark until the deal was done.
Ramsey and Sibley ultimately settled their differences with Rice. In 1852, his diplomatic experience and lack of direct involvement in Ramsey’s disastrous Sandy Lake annuity scheme made him invaluable for convincing Dakota representatives to amend their 1851 treaty to allow white settlement to the west of the Mississippi. The fallout of this treaty contributed to the US-Dakota War, and the white population growth it facilitated was crucial for Minnesota statehood. In 1853, Rice easily defeated Whig opponents to become Minnesota’s second territorial delegate.
As delegate, Rice focused on facilitating population growth and economic development for Minnesota Territory. He authorized new land offices and expanded pre-emption rights for settler-colonists, making it easier for individuals to acquire formerly Dakota-held land. Rice was re-elected in 1855, but questions over family and business connections to a railroad deal contributed to a close race. In 1857, he authored legislation enabling Minnesota to begin the process of drafting its own constitution and becoming a state. When this occurred in 1858, Rice and James Shields became Minnesota’s first senators.
In 1854, Rice passed a bill allotting certificates, or “scrip,” exchangeable for 160 acres of unclaimed federal land, to Metís people dislocated by new Dakota treaties. While scrip was hypothetically non-transferable, a loophole allowed a land holding company owned by Rice’s associates to buy thousands of acres of so-called “half-breed” scrip for pennies on the dollar.
A Democrat with Southern in-laws and friendships with prominent pro-slavery senators, Rice supported allowing states to secede peacefully to avoid the Civil War well into the summer of 1861. He became an effective “War Democrat” following heavy losses by Minnesota’s First Volunteer Infantry Regiment at Bull Run. On the Senate Committee of Military Affairs, Rice used his business acumen and personal experience with relocating the Ho-Chunk to coordinate the mobilization and supply of Union soldiers.
Rice lost a re-election campaign to Ramsey and effectively retired from politics. He served on the Board of Regents for the University of Minnesota during the 1850s and was a founding member of the Minnesota Historical Society.
Rice remained active in St. Paul business and civic development and continued to act as a government consultant on Indian policy well into his seventies. He died while traveling in Texas in 1894 and was buried in St. Paul.
Bonus November 29 Holiday
Today is the First Sunday of Advent. Pull out your advent calendar, wreath, Jesse Trees or other favorite ways to celebrate the season.
Find 30 Days of November Family Holidays on the corresponding pages