Historical Facts About
Rice & Chatfield
Navarro County, Texas


Rice Community || Chatfield Community



Researched by Mattie Beth Harper Moore (Mrs. S. A. Moore)
Originally published in "The Navarro County Scroll", 1967, pp28-35
Reprinted with permission of the Navarro County Historical Society
Extracted by Roger Bartlett

[p. 29] RICE, TEXAS. Rice, north of Corsicana in northern Navarro County, was settled in the late 1860's. By 1872, when the Houston and Texas Central Railroad came through the area, about a dozen families lived in a four-mile radius. William Marsh Rice donated land for a station, and the town-site [was] named for him. The first business house was a two-story wooden structure with a general store operated by L. B. Haynie on the lower floor, and a hotel operated by Ed Taber and his wife on the upper floor. Haynie also became the first post-master on October 2, 1872. [According to records at the National Archives, the first postmaster was Joseph C. Bartlett.] The first newspaper in Rice was the RICE ENTERPRISE, 1898, which was followed by the RICE RUSTLER in 1901. The census of 1900 showed a population of 268. In May, 1901, one-third of the business section burned. In 1912 the Texas Electric Railway completed the Dallas-Corsicana division through Rice; the town adopted the aldermanic type of city government the same year. A decline of business resulting from the closer connection with larger trading centers brought the 1933 count of thirty-three businesses and 611 population down to eight businesses and 489 population by 1945.

WILLIAM MARSH RICE - Son of David and Patty (Hall) Rice, was born on March 14, 1816, at Springfield, Massachusetts. He left school at fifteen to become clerk in a country store. On his twenty-first birthday he purchased a store from his own savings, but in the fall of 1838 or Spring of 1839 he moved to Houston, Texas, where on April 22, 1839, he contracted to furnish and serve liquors in the bar of the Milam House in return for the cost of the liquors, $3.00 a day, and board. He soon entered the mercantile business, receiving a first-class license from the city of Houston on June 28, 1840. For a time he was associated with Ebenezar B. Nichols in the firm of Rice and Nichols, but after a few years he continued alone under the name of William Rice and Company. He served as alderman of Houston for a term and was an incorporator and director of several railroad enterprises, the Houston Insurance Company, and Houston Academy.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Rice transferred his business to Matamoros, and after the war he moved to Dunellen, New Jersey, where was agent for the Houston and Texas Central Railroad. Rice retained his interest in Texas, however, for in 1891 he incorporated in Texas the William Marsh Rice Institute for the advancement of literature, science, and art and gave it a small endowment.

Rice had accumulated a fortune of about $3,000,000 by 1896, when he moved to New York City, where he was murdered by Charles F. Jones, his valet, and Albert T. Patrick, a lawyer interested in his wife's estate. After years of litigation, the bulk of the estate went to Rice Institute.

Rice was twice married but had no children. His first wife, Margaret C. Bremond, died in August, 1863; his second wife, Julia Elizabeth
(Baldwin) Brown, died a short time before Rice was killed in 1896.

Rice was an Odd Fellow, a Mason, and an active member of the Episcopal church. His ashes are buried under the statue of him by John Angel on the Rice Institute [now Rice University] campus in Houston.

CHATFIELD, TEXAS, in the northeastern Navarro County, was settled in 1848 by a man named Chatfield who pitched a tent on the Corsicana road and set up a tinware and household article business. There being a spring at the site, other settlers joined Chatfield, among them B. F. Lisman, a blacksmith who made sabres for the Confederate Army. During the Civil War the name of the settlement and post-office was changed to Mesquite, but the original name was resumed after the war. Chatfield reached its peak during the late 1890's; it remains an agricultural community with cotton the chief money crop. Cattle are also being raised in this community. Population in 1945 was three hundred.

[p. 30] "People will never look forward to posterity who never look back to their ancestors." ---Edmund Burke

I shall attempt to write about a subject I know best - how the Communities of Rice and Chatfield played a large part in the lives of many of my Ancestors.

The first of my Ancestors to arrive in Navarro County was my Great-Grandfather, Joseph Alvey Clayton, who was born in Marshall
County, Tennessee, December 30, 1817, and emigrated to Texas in the early part of 1835. He quickly joined in the effort to free Texas from Mexican rule. He was a member of Captain Amasa Turner's Company, but was attached to the Artillery at the Battle of San Jacinto.

His name is among those listed on a bronze plate, on the wall of the west room of the San Jacinto Museum. A daguerreotype of Joseph A. Clayton, also the double-barreled percussion shot gun, his sword and the family Bible are all in the Museum.

Joseph Alvey Clayton was a soldier in the Mexican War also. After this war he returned to Tennessee and married Margaret Amanda Poole on June, 1847. They moved to Texas and located [at] Washington-On-the-Brazos. His profession was a Surveyor of land. Many of his surveys are still in and others in the Archives in Austin [sic]. A story handed down in the family, which we have every reason to believe true, is that my Great-Grandfather Clayton was with the group of Surveyors who were sent to Spring Hill to survey the land so that new families could move in. After arriving at Spring Hill and unpacking materials, necessary for the surveys - it was discovered that some of the equipment was left behind. Joseph Clayton and two other Surveyors were sent back to the headquarters, at Franklin, from which they came, to recover the equipment needed. On their return to Spring Hill, these three men learned of the Battle between the Surveyors and the Indians. Had it not been necessary to return for the equipment, they too would have been in this massacre.

Joseph A. Clayton and his wife, and family, resided in Washington-on-the-Brazos until 1852, when they settled again at Wadeville, near Kerens, then a few years later the Clayton Family settled permanently on a farm, just out of Chatfield. Joseph Clayton bought 653 acres from Mrs. Abbey Chambers, of the Thomas J. Chambers Eight League Grant, just north of Chatfield, in Navarro County.

Joseph Alvey Clayton volunteered for service in Captain Winkler's Company I, 4th Regiment. He later raised a Company of Volunteers and was Captain of 19th Militia Brigade, Precinct 2 - September 15, 1861 - the Civil War. He remained in service until the end of the Civil War.

The Brigade was as follows:
Captain -------------------- J. A. Clayton
1st. Lieut. ---------------- W. F. Kenner
2nd Lieut. ----------------- Lucian Lockhart
3rd. Lieut. ---------------- A. G. Hervey
1st. Sergt. ---------------- Ed Graham
There were 71 Privates.

Joseph Clayton was intensely interested in the political affairs in his adopted State for which he fought.

In reading the Journal, or Diary, written by Mr. Jacob Eliot, he wrote:
"On Friday, the 28th of December, 1860, news reached Corsicana, Navarro County, that South Carolina, by a formal ordinance of her State Convention, had with-drawn from the Federal Union. Corsicana was pleased with the news and for want of a cannon, celebrated the event by firing anvils. A large portion of our Citizens are following the example of South Carolina ---- that of Secession."

Mr. Eliot again wrote: "J. A. Clayton, member of the [Secession] Convention, reached here last evening bring a copy of [the secession]
ordinance and the action of the Convention in relation to the election to be held on the 23 inst. - Also the correspondence between a Committee of the Convention and Governor Houston, in which the Governor endorses the action of the Convention."

[p. 31] The Convention, which met on the 28th of January, 1861, debated and adopted the ordinance of secession. The two grounds stated for with-drawal from the Union were the failure of the Federal Government to give protection to the people upon the frontiers of Texas, and the recent developments in Federal affairs evidencing the intention of "striking down the interest and prosperity of Texas and her Sister slaveholding States." This resolution was adopted by the Convention by a vote of 167 to 7.

Joseph A. Clayton, Surveyor and Soldier of three wars, was given Head Rights - granted by the Republic of Texas. 1480 acres, seven and one-half miles northeast of Denton County. Then one thousand acres, that he did not file for, located in Coryell County (Gatesville - County Seat) where Fort Gates was located - one of the Frontier Forts. There were seven hundred acres near Rice and In Navarro and Ellis Counties. He also owned land located near Powell, which he bought on his early arrival in Navarro County.

There was an interesting article published in the Dallas News, just as Texas was celebrating her Centennial year. The article as published, reads as follows: "Had it not been for the Civil War, Texas might be celebrating its Centennial this year at Telico. This Community, west of the Trinity River twelve miles northeast of Ennis, is almost forgotten as far as history is concerned, but eighty years ago it was visioned [sic] as the Metropolis of North Texas.

Serving to focus attention on Telico was its $200,000 Telico Manufacturing Company Plant, organized and financed by a group of
wealthy pioneers, who set out to build a great city near the landing on the West bank of the Trinity. The pier was for Captain R. D. Aprice's Welchman, one of the largest light draft Steamers ever to ply the then navigable streams between Galveston and Dallas.

Among the backers of the manufacturing enterprise were Joseph A. Clayton, T. M. McCray, Solomon Vanhook, Isaac Sessions, G. C.
Richardson, James Hamilton, John Westbrook, William Peel, Abner Johnson and F. M. Hanks.

Its stock found ready sale and a large unit of the factory was built, including a building 150 X 250 feet, in which were installed four large
engines of eighty horsepower each.

The company, which manufactured wool, cotton, lumber and furniture, flourished for four or five years. Then the impending Civil War carried it down in its destruction and today there is no vestige of what was probably the first and certainly the largest Manufacturing Plant in North Texas. The town of Telico disappeared, but later a thriving inland community was built. The war also proved disastrous for Captain Aprice's business, and he sunk the WELCHMAN and retired to his farm near Italy."

Joseph Alvey Clayton met an untimely death by an accident. He had just returned from a business trip to Corsicana and was checking on the negro, in his employ, who was cutting grain. When he arrived the negro had stopped the team and was examining the harness at the head of the team. Mr. Clayton took in the scene and saw a friend in the seat of the grain cutting machine, which in those days was a very crude implement with blades exposed. My Great-Grandfather [Clayton] immediately realized the danger the friend was in if the team should become restless or frightened, so he rushed over to rescue the friend. The team did become startled and caught Mr. Clayton's arm in the blades and mangled his arm. Mr. Clayton's wife was ill at the time, and the news of his accident hastened her death. She passed away on July 29, 1873. Mr. Clayton died August 1, on the day his wife was buried. Their remains are interred in the old Cemetery at Chatfield, Navarro County. Mr. Merrit Drane was the Administrator of Joseph A. Clayton's Will. Mr. and Mrs. Clayton were the parents of eight children.

Ida Clayton was married to James T. Fortson on June 20, 1867. She was the oldest daughter of Joseph A. Clayton and Mrs. Margaret Amanda Clayton. Ida C. Fortson [and] James T. Fortson lived in Chatfield for a number of years, then they moved near Rice. They remained in this location until the death of James T. Fortson on [p. 32] January 4, 1892. Ida Clayton Fortson was educated at Independence College, which was the original Baylor College, now Baylor University. She was a well educated, capable and far-sighted woman, and also proved herself to be a good business woman. At the death of her husband Ida Clayton Fortson sold some land, inherited from her Father, Joseph A. Clayton, to T. J. Wilson on October 10, 1892. With this money she began to build her estate, with the assistance of her family. She later moved her family to Rice, Texas. She remained in Rice until her death on August 30, 1910.

James T. and Ida C. Fortson were the parents of ten children. I, Mattie Beth Harper Moore, am the first living Fortson Grand-child.

The Fortson family were originally from Mississippi. The information of our branch of the Fortson family is that they first located in Denton County, when they first came to Texas. Later they moved to Navarro County, in the Kerens vicinity. There were six children of this first Fortson family, four boys and two girls.

James T. Fortson, born September 27, 1840, fought all during the Civil war, as did his brother, John Fortson, and both were in Company E - Parson Brigade. James T. Fortson was wounded three times in battle. He and his wife, Ida Clayton Fortson, are both interred in the Old Chatfield Cemetery.

In the days after the Civil War life was very difficult, so I've heard my Grandparents say. A Great-Uncle, who knew the history of both the Clayton and Fortson Families, told some of us of this generation, some of the true incidents of both families.

This incident I would like to especially record, for the reason of hearing so many different versions of this story. We are sure this is
the true version because there was, at that time, some documentary evidence. This story concerns two of the Fortson Brothers - whose
parents located in the Kerens vicinity - of whom I mentioned earlier in this report.

This state was still in its infancy and danger still lurked in the shadows. John Fortson and Joseph A. Clayton, owned a large barge,
jointly, and it was moored on the Trinity River at Mud Springs. On one of John Fortson's many trips to the barge, which was by horse-back, he was forced, by a storm, to take refuge in an old abandoned cabin, in a secluded spot, near the River. He thought it was abandoned but when he entered he found he had run into a den of Counterfeiters. He made a very fast exit and was fortunate enough to get far enough away before he could be followed. However, the Counterfeiters knew he had seen them and knew what their business was. So they did not forget.

A short time later, in mid-spring in the year 1867, John Fortson was about ready to launch the Barge, on its maiden-voyage down the Trinity to Galveston. It was being loaded with its Cargo and a goodly crowd had gathered on the bank of the River to see and celebrate the launching. Out of the crowd appeared one of the Counterfeiters, feigning drunkenness. No one in the crowd seemed to know him - they thought him on a drunken spree. He wandered down the bank of the River onto the Barge. He sidled over near John Fortson, who was busy checking his cargo. John turned and at that moment the Counterfeiter shot him, several times. At just that moment Bill Fortson rode up. Someone in the crowd called to Bill that a man had just shot his Brother John. Bill had been told by his brother John, that he thought some of this group might try to kill him and described, as best he could, the men he remembered in the abandoned cabin. As Bill rushed down the bank, the killer shot at him too, many times, fortunately not hitting anyone. Then Bill saw the Counterfeiter kick his Brother's body, as [he] neared the barge. The only weapon Bill carried was a Bowie knife. He was also a very red blooded Southerner and when he saw the killer kick his Brother's body and trying to shoot him all the way down the bank of the River - he rushed onto the barge and grabbed the Counterfeiter. They scuffled, the killer trying to shoot - but Bill stabbed the man, perhaps several times, this part of the story no one knows for sure. They both fell into the River. The Counterfeiter was dead, and his body sank. Bill was pulled out of the River onto the Barge. I understand, from a reliable Family source, that both John, and later after Bill Fortson's death, both were buried in the Family Cemetery in Kerens.

[p. 33] John Marion Harper was born near Atlanta, Georgia, June 15, 1840. He enlisted for service in the Confederate Army at the beginning of the Civil War. He belonged to Company G, 12th Alabama Regiment - 12th Cavalry in the State of Alabama. He served during the entire period of the Civil War and was made a Captain before the war ended. While in the service Captain Harper met Major Matthew Alexander. Through Major Alexander he later met his Daughter, Rebecca Jane Alexander. She was also the Great-Grand-Daughter of the well known General John Sevier, who was later to serve two terms as Governor of Tennessee. (Each term was six years - so he served for twelve years but not consecutively.) She was the Great-Niece of Gail Borden, who was best known for his invention of condensed milk - which was thought by learned men to be an impossibility. He was also a Pioneer in two fields: he with his brothers assisted at the birth of Texas and helped carve a Republic that was a worthy predecessor to a great State. He
also pioneered in a field in which it took even greater patience and stamina - that of science.

Among the pioneering phases, another in particular is outstanding - that of the Borden's journalistic enterprise the "Texas Telegraph and Register", the first newspaper published in Texas. Too, Gail Borden helped write the first of Texas' Seven Constitutions. He became a trusted and trustworthy friend of Austin and Houston. He surveyed tens of thousands of acres of Texas lands. Was a soldier in the war for Texas Independence, and after independence was gained, he was made commissioner of the General Land Office. He established in that important office the general system of land title records that has been followed for a hundred years. Texas has honored the memory of the modest, fearless, honest and God respecting Borden by naming Borden County, of which Gail is the County Seat, for him.

Captain John Marion Harper and Rebecca Jane Alexander were later married, when the war was over. They left Borden Springs, Alabama, her home until she married, and located first in Honey Grove, Fannin County, Texas. They did not remain too long in Fannin County but bought a home and farm near Petty, Lamar County, where most of their children were born. The farm had large negro quarters, its own gin, blacksmith shop and commissary. In the early 1870's he sold this farm and bought one at Chatfield, Navarro County, Texas, from Major H. F. Ewing. Before Captain Harper could move his family to their new home - the Colonial house that Major Ewing had built, and which set some distance back from the Corsicana-Chatfield road, that passed on one side of the land, the house burned to the ground. When Captain Harper rebuilt he located the ten room house he had built, nearer the much traveled road. It was of
the same type architecture popular in that period - with the up stairs and down-stairs galleries, as they were called then. The galleries ran
across the entire front of the house. All the two-story homes, at that time, were built on this same order and especially in Chatfield. The
furniture was hauled from the Petty home to Chatfield by wagon. Mrs. Harper, the housekeeper, Mrs. Mosley, and the children came to Rice by train. The new farm in Chatfield community was very much like the one at Petty - it had a gin (this one was a hand gin), three sections of negro quarters, two large barns and a commissary.

All the Harper children grew up in the Chatfield Community and went to school there. Two of the Sons became Doctors: Dr. Warren Alexander Harper, who practiced medicine in South Texas until his death. Dr. William M. Harper started his practice in the early 1890's in Chatfield. (Mr. L. P. Hodge bought Dr. Harper's old Office and moved it behind his home). Later in 1895 Dr. Harper married Miss Addie Loop of Chatfield. About 1898 he moved his family to Rice and in Rice Dr. Harper opened a Drug Store in the building at the end of the street nearest the Rail-road. He had his office in the Drug Store and continued his medical practice. Later Dr. Harper and his family moved to Corsicana.

Robert Lee Harper, my father, married Ida Fortson of Rice. My Father opened a Drugstore in Rice about 1901, in a brick building on the southwest corner of the main business street of Rice. In about 1909 he moved to Corsicana and opened a Drug-Store in the building that is now [the] J. C. Penney store.

[p. 34] The store was known as the "Harper Drug Company". Some years later Mr. W. R. Kenner bought an interest in the store and the name was changed to "Harper-Kenner Drug Company". Quite a number of years later Mr. Kenner sold his interest and it became the "Harper-Innabinett Drug Company". Later my father went into the Drug business in Dallas.

Another Son of Captain and Mrs. Harper's was John Harper, who became the City Secretary of Corsicana in the year 1911 - when Mr. John Halbert was the Mayor. Mr. John Harper continued serving as City Secretary until 1925. When the new City Hall was built, his name was among those on the Corner Stone of the then new building. He was married to Miss Myrtle Guynes.

G. W. Harper (Walter) moved to Rice, was married to Miss Verna King of  Chatfield. He was in the Feed business and became the first mayor of Rice, when the town first became incorporated. The City History of the Revised Civil and Criminal Ordinances reads as follows:

"The City of Rice, in Navarro County, Texas, having the requisite population, as required by Title 22, Chapter 14 of the Revised Civil
Statutes of the State of Texas, did, at an election held on the second day of December, A.D. 1912, by the qualified electors residing within the territorial limits, as described in "City Boundaries' in the Revised Civil and Criminal Ordinances of the City of Rice, Texas, voted to Incorporate.

This action was duly and legally certified to by the County Judge of Navarro County, Texas, on the third day of December, A. D. 1912, and was duly recorded on the minutes of the Commissioners' Court, and which is of record in Volume No. 7 on page 605 of the Minutes of the Commissioner's Court of Navarro County, Texas."

The Officers were:
Mayor and Recorder ------------------------------------- G. W. Harper
Mayor Pro Tem ------------------------------------------ W. R. Smith
Secretary and Clerk ------------------------------------ C. A. Nowlin
Treasurer ---------------------------------------------- C. A. Nowlin
Health Officer ----------------------------------------- J. W. Tolleson
Marshal ------------------------------------------------ S. L. Hobbs


A. C. Hervey W. R. Smith
M. S. Miles J. B. Harper
J. T. Mahaley

Joe B. Harper was in the Grocery business in Rice. He married Miss Elizabeth Hodge, of Chatfield. They moved to Rice in the early 1900's.

Sidney Harper moved to Rice later than the other Brothers. He was the youngest of the boys in the family so remained home longer. He married Miss Edith Joyner.

Jess Harper, married Miss Addie Mae Oliphant, they also moved to Rice, after leaving Corsicana, they lived in Rice until his death.

When Captain John Marion Harper retired from the Farm, he leased his property in Chatfield and Oklahoma and moved to Rice. He had built two houses in Rice before retiring but bought a third in which they lived. He and Mrs. Harper spent their declining years in Rice.

[p. 35]

Navarro County Historical Scroll ------------- 1965 Issue
History of Texas ----------------------------- By Clarence R. Wharton
Article From Centennial Issue ---------------- The Dallas Morning News
Heroes of San Jacinto ------------------------ By Dixon
The Abstract of Joseph A. Clayton
Notable Southern Families -------------------- By Armstrong
Gail Borden ---- "Pioneer" ------------------- By Clarence R. Wharton
Revised Civil and Criminal Ordinances of The City of Rice, Texas
The Handbook of Texas ---- From The Texas State Historical Association


  • This is another Harper stone that could be linked to the historical article on Rice and Chatfield.  Walter Harper was the son of Captain John and Rebecca Alexander Harper.  The last photo of the stone of Cullen Knight and Betty Harper Knight was on the same plot of John and Rebecca Harper, as she was their daughter.
    Thanks again. .... Jane B Smith  Nov 2006



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Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox