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Elijah J. "Pappy" Rice
Presentation to the Annandale History Club
Date:  August 5, 2013
Sue Heible

Account: Albright's Mill

Sue Heibel, Elijah “Pappy” Rice’s great-great granddaughter, chronicled his life story with a power point presentation.  Pappy Rice (1854-1941) was a well-known blacksmith and gunsmith at Albright in Middleville Township, Wright County, Minnesota.  There are many descendants of both Elijah Rice and his brother, Mathias Rice, in the Annandale and Kimball areas.  Many Pappy Rice descendants attended the presentation.

1854:  Elijah J. Rice was born in East Fork, Lawrence County, Kentucky, to Elijah J. Rice (1831-1888) and Eliza Jane (McCormack) Rice (1833-c.1928).  There were 11 children:  Mathias (1852-1927), Lucinda (1853-1916), Elijah, Jr. (1854-1941), James (1857-1938), William (1859-?), Nancy Ellen (1861-?), John Dee (1865-1959), Oleva (c.1867-?), Mary Belle (c.1870-?), Thomas (1872-?), and Martha  (1876-?).  Elijah and Mathias moved to Minnesota.  Their brother, John “Dee” Rice, came to Middleville Township circa 1887 and returned to Kentucky in 1891.

Elijah Rice, Sr. owned a sawmill in Denton, Carter County, Kentucky:  “Elijah Rice and Son, M.H. Rice – Manufacturers of all kinds of Hardwood, Walnut, Pine, Poplar Lumber and Staves.”  Elijah Jr. learned his trade as a boy in his father’s shop in Kentucky, including watch repairing, using different metals, gunsmithing, coffin building, and furniture making.

1874:  Elijah Rice, Jr. and Phoebe (or Phebe) Pine Rice (1855-1898) were married August 25, 1874, in Carter County, Kentucky.  Phoebe’s mothererH was Cherokee Indian.  There were nine children born to this union:  James “William” Rice (1875-1958), Cora Rice Bowman (1877-1964), Edward Rice (1879-1935), Eliza Jane Rice Greer (1881-1923), John “Dee” Rice (1884-1957), Hugh Rice (1886-1958), Harriet “Hattie” Rice Compton (c.1888-1959), Howard Rice (1890-1978), Lewis Rice (1893-1958).

c.1877:  Elijah and Phoebe Rice came to French Lake Township, Wright County, Minnesota, with children William and Cora.  Edward was born in Minnesota in 1879. The Elijah Rice family is listed on the1880 and 1885 French Lake census records. 

1891:  Elijah’s brother, Mathias H. Rice, and family came to Minnesota in 1891 and established a home near the old mill at French Lake Corners and in 1906 moved to Holyoke, Minnesota.

1895:  The 1895 Smith Lake, Middleville Township, census listed Elijah (39), Phoebe (38), William (20), Cora (18), Edward (16), Eliza (14), John (12), Hugh (9), Hattie (7), Howard (4), Lewis (3).

1902:  Elijah Rice built an addition to a house he moved from Smith Lake to Albright.  He also had a blacksmith shop, gunsmith shop and jewelry shop at Albright. 

1898:  Phoebe Rice died.  Her grave is at Sylvan Cemetery in Middleville Township.

1899:  Elijah Rice married Eliza “Jane” Scott Mitchell (1862-1917).  Jane’s husband, Mitchell, was a railroad man who died in a train related accident.  Her son Howard Mitchell was two years old when she married Elijah Rice.  She trapped with Elijah and gave him the nickname “Pappy,” which everyone used the rest of his life.

1917:   When Jane died July 2, 1917, at the age of 55, Pappy made a tomb, a rather fancy mausoleum, on the hill above his shop.  The tomb was on the bluff overlooking the bend of the Crow River at Albright’s Mill.  In the late 1940s, Jane’s son had her remains moved to Sylvan Cemetery.

It is said that each time Pappy lost a wife, he returned to Kentucky to find a new spouse.  He would marry five times.  The third and fifth marriages didn’t last long and ended in divorce.

1930:  Pappy Rice married his fourth wife, Sarah Johnson (1875-1938), in Middleville Township.  Sarah was born in Huntington, West Virginia.  She was 56 years old and Pappy was 77 years old when they married.  Sarah Rice died July 12, 1938.  Her grave is at Sylvan Cemetery.

1933:  Cokato Enterprise, October 26, 1933:  “Old ‘Pappy Rice,’ Albright’s professor of gunsmithing, had a right busy week of fixin’ up weapons for the war on pheasants.  This 78 year old gunsmith, known throughout this section as an expert, improves his knowledge of the trade as the years go by, and in the ramshackle structure which he calls his shop he is busier than ever, the depression notwithstanding.  It seems that no matter what ails your gun – and whether it’s a .22 rifle or a twelve-gauge shotgun – he can repair it.  He can make a stock or barrel or firing pin.” 

Farmers said that Pappy plunged sharpened plowshares in the Crow River to cool them.

1941:  Elijah J. Rice died January 20, 1941, in rural Willard, Carter County, Kentucky, at age 87, of pneumonia and influenza.  Cokato Enterprise:  “Rites for E.J. Rice Held in Kentucky.  The death of E.J. Rice, for many years a gunsmith and general mechanic with a home on the banks of the Crow River at Albright corners northeast of Cokato, occurred this month in Kentucky.  Funeral services were conducted at his old home in Kentucky, and the following obituary has been contributed to the Enterprise.

“Elijah Rice was born at Glenwood, Kentucky (sic) in 1854, coming to Howard Lake as a young man with his wife and four children.  He had learned his trade in his father’s shop in Kentucky as a boy, watch repairing, mending various things, learning how to use the different metals, gunsmithing, coffin building, furniture making.  He worked in his shop until he went to Kentucky December 19.

“He made many trips to Kentucky the last years to spend the winter months with a widowed sister and teach the word to a group of people in a little school near his sister’s home. 

“Mr. Rice had one brother and two sisters living near the old home place, and it was there he died being ill three days.  His funeral was in the church he attended as a boy and he was buried in the family lot where his father, mother, brothers and sisters are resting.

HeHeHHe leaves to grieve William, J.D., Hugh, Howard, Lewis Rice, and Mrs. Ellis Bowman and Mrs. W.M. Compton, 33 grandchildren, 51 great-grandchildren, and one great-great grandchild also survive.”

Note:  Carter County, Kentucky, is in northeastern Kentucky near the West Virginia border.

1972:  Marian Jameson, Wright County Historian, interviewed Pappy Rice’s son Howard at his home, which was Pappy’s former home.  Howard Rice said he had an anvil, vice, and hammer which his father made in Kentucky at age 17.  Howard Rice also said that Pappy Rice could do healing.  He said he could heal burns and stop blood.  “He did it through God’s work, through the Bible…”     

1981:  Minneapolis Tribune, July 12,1981:  Larry Batson wrote the following about Pappy Rice:  “Elijah J. Rice was one of those untutored masters who simply understand machinery.  He could repair a clock or a steam thresher, rebuild a gun or a cream separator, shoe a horse and make a ring for a lady’s finger.  He made most of his own tools, even a foot-powered metal lathe.  Rice worked hard, spoke little, and became something of a legend in Wright County after his death in 1941 at age 86.”  Vern Jones said, “He could do anything just about to perfection.”  Batson wrote, “Rice worked hard until he died.  When he became too old to drive, neighbors with a mechanical problem – a broken threshing rig, an enormous steam engine that had rolled down a hillside – would fetch Pappy and he would inspect the damage and quietly figure out something.”

“Colin McDonald…of Annandale took an 1897 shotgun to Rice.  ‘It was worn so that new parts wouldn’t work well,’ McDonald said. ‘So he made parts from pieces of steel with a file.”’

1992:    In January Pappy Rice’s little complex of buildings, the house with a room built into the side of a hill, and two sheds (former shops), were all that remained of the once thriving hamlet of Albright. The buildings were destroyed by burning.  Pappy Rice’s son, Howard Rice, and his wife Minerva lived there until 1973.  Pappy Rice’s house was on the northwest side of the Crow River near the bridge that was dismantled in 1990.  Ellie Dahlberg took photos of the house and area in January 1992 for the Wright County Historical Society.  Pappy Rice’s property had several owners before becoming part of Albright’s County Park and the Wright County Parks system.

2007:  The third annual Elijah J. “Pappy” Rice family reunion was held at Albright’s Mill County Park.


Notes by Annandale History Club Secretary