Oscar Rice

OSCAR RICE, who has lived in Fort Scott since he graduated from high school, is a typical Kansan in his enterprise and hustling business ability. For a number of years he was a traveling salesman. In 1910 he drew up the plans and promoted the organization of The Western Automobile Indemnity Association. This association in the oldest and financially the strongest mutual association writing automobile liability in America. Since the organization of the association its headquarters have been at Fort Scott and Mr. Rice has been secretary and manager.

Mr. Rice was one of those to recognize this new field of insurance consequent upon the enormous development of the automobile, and it was to supply a highly specialized and exclusive service that he organized this association, which in the past six years has extended its policies to automobile owners in eight different states of the Mississippi Valley and has gained that prestige resulting from reliable protection at a moderate cost, together with a perfect fairness and reasonableness in the settling of all claims. The Western Automobile Indemnity Association was organized and is conducted solely for the purpose of furnishing insurance to owners of automobile vehicles. It is one of the few companies of the kind, and as already stated is the largest and financially the strongest. In view of come recent developments, it will not be out of place to mention one feature of the policy of The Western Automobile Indemnity Association. While this association has furnished prompt and careful investigations of claims and has never quibbled about compensation due under policies, it has taken a firm stand to defeat all attempts on the part of individuals to capitalize accidents and extort unreasonable and unmerited compensation. It is very evident, as the association claims, that such a policy is a true public service.

The name Rice is prominently known in Kansas not only because of the business position occupied by Mr. Rice but also because of the prominence long enjoyed by his father, the late John Holt Rice, who was one of the veteran journalists of America. John Holt Rice was born in Greene County, Tennessee, November 14, 1825, and died at Fort Scott Kansas, October 5, 1904, at the venerable age of seventy-nine. He was a son of David Rice, a native of Virginia, who had become an early settler in Greene county, Tennessee. Besides farming David Rice for twenty-six consecutive years occupied the office of Surveyor of Greene County. He was elected on the whig ticket, though his county was strongly democratic. David Rice married Jane Doak, daughter of Rev. Samuel Doak, one of the pioneer educators in Tennessee and founder of Washington College at Washington in that state. John Rice, a brother of David Rice, was founder of the Andover Theological Seminary of Virginia. Thus both sides of the family in that generation were prominently represented in the educational field.

John Holt Rice was educated at Tusculum College in his native county. At that time his uncle, Dr. Samuel W. Doak was president of the school. In February, 1845, at the age of nineteen, John H. Rice was admitted to the bar. In the following May he located at Cassville, Georgia, where he took up an active practice. In 1855 he became editor of the Cassville Standard, carrying those responsibilities in addition to his legal practice. January 1, 1856, he was elected major general of the Twelfth Division of the Georgia State Militia. That election was important because of its bearing upon the issues then most prominent before the people in Georgia and all the South. John H. Rice was Union candidate for this office, and received a majority of 1,772 votes over Col. E. M. Gault, who was the Southern Rights candidate. The following year Major Rice removed to Rome, Georgia, where he remained a short time, and then went to Atlanta, where he founded the Franklin Printing Company. Under his able management this developed as a large book publishing concern, and it continued to grow until the war came on. During the war the plant was destroyed.

The achievements of John H. Rice seems the more remarkable when it is recalled that for more than forty years he lived under the shadow of sudden death. In 1861 he sustained a stroke of paralysis. The fact that he lived usefully for more than forty years is a splendid tribute to his strength of will and his perfect self control. It was this stroke which prevented him from taking an active part in the war. He was always a consistent opponent of secession, though a democrat in the years preceding the war. His last vote for a member of that party was given to Stephen A. Douglas in 1860. In those trying days he did all he could to show and convince his friends that secession would mean the ruin of the South. Had it not been for his sudden illness he would have exerted all his powerful influence against secession.

After Sherman had captured Atlanta Mr. Rice was appointed in May, 1865, purchasing agent for the Federal cavalry forces under Gen. J. H. Wilson and later under General Croxton. He served in that capacity until the troops were mustered out on August 1, 1865.

In the fall of 1865 having the interests of his family in mind, Mr. Rice removed from Georgia to Westport, Missouri, and soon afterward to Cass County in that State. While living in Cass County he became a participant in one of the most heated political contests ever waged in Missouri. It was over the enforcement of what was known as the "Drake Code."

In 1867 John H. Rice removed to Kansas. For a few years he lived on a farm on Pony Creek in Miami County. On June 22, 1872, a second stroke of paralysis came, and he was prostrated for two years. In the fall of 1874, believing himself permanently disabled, he removed to Paola and there on March 20, 1875, bought a half interests in the Miami Republican. Two years later he bought the other interests, and took full charge of its editorial and business management. The Republican was by no means a prosperous enterprise when Mr. Rice took charge. With the assistance of one of his sons he showed that enterprise as a newspaper publisher which long distinguished him, and he soon had a circulation of over 2,000 and the paper was on a sound financial basis. It was a paper that for a number of years enjoyed distinction as one of the most influential in that part of Kansas. In 1880 John H. Rice bought the Fort Scott Monitor. He soon afterward sold the Republican at Paola and removed to Fort Scott to take entire charge and continued the management of the Monitor for a number of years.

He was long prominent in republican politics in Kansas. In 1884 he was an elector on the James G. Blaine ticket in Kansas. He was an ardent advocate of internal improvements. In 1889 he became one of the promoters of a railway from Natchez, Mississippi, to Bastrop, Arkansas, a distance of 100 miles. He had the honor of being a delegate to the Interstate Mississippi River Improvement and Levee Association, when delegates from eight states met at Pittsburg, Mississippi. He was selected as a member of the executive committee of the organization, and spent considerable time in Washington in urging the demands of the organization before Congress, and was instrumental in securing an appropriation from that body for the building of levees along the Mississippi River. In 1893 John H. Rice went to Texas and established the LaPorte Chronicle in the city of that name. That was his home until 1896, when he sold his paper, and returned to Fort Scott. A little later he removed to Sedalia, Missouri, and established the Sedalia Capital, with his son as a partner. He assisted in publishing that paper until 1898, When he sold out and retired from active journalism after having been an editor or newspaper proprietor for an even fifty years. He then returned to Fort Scott and lived there until his death six years later.

John H. Rice became a member of the Masonic fraternity in 1849, and at the time of his death was one of the oldest Masons in Kansas. On December 1, ]847, he married Nancy Russell of a North Carolina family. Ten children were born to their union. Those now living are: William M., Richard P., Henry V., Lula, wife of William C. Gunn, Flora, wife of Dr. W. S. McDonald, and Oscar. The other children were: Edwin D., who died in 1871; Emma P. and Georgia, both of whom died in 1873; and David R., who died in 1898. A granddaughter Georgia Paxton Rice died in 1903.

Oscar Rice was born in Terrell County, Georgia, August 23, 1865, and was about two years of age when his parents removed to Kansas. He attended the public schools in Fort Scott and after leaving high school he started out as a traveling salesman for the Fort Scott Wholesale Drug Company. He was successfully engaged as traveling representative of that concern until 1910, when he planned and organized The Western Automobile Indemnity Association.

Mr. Rice for many years has been active in the Masonic Fraternity, is an active member of the Scottish Rite and is also a Knight Templar and Mystic Shriner. In 1914 he was Grand Patron of the Order of the Eastern Star. His chief hobby is automobiling. That naturally has made him a promoter of good roads. He was secretary of the Kansas City, Canada, and Gulf Good Roads project, and that has since developed into the Memphis and Jefferson Highway Association, of which Mr. Rice has been secretary since its organization.

On December 19, 1894, at Fort Scott, he married Miss Stella Prager. She was born in Leavenworth, Kansas, daughter of David and Hattie (Briggs) Prager. Her father was one of the pioneer jewelers in Kansas, having a place of business in Lawrence and later at Leavenworth. During the war his entire stock of jewelry was carried away by Quantrell and his raiders when Lawrence was invaded and so many of its inhabitants massacred.


A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, copyright 1918; transcribed October, 1997.
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