HENRY MOWER RICE was born on November 29, 1816, in Waitsfield, Vermont. His father died when he was a child, and he spent the rest of his youth living with friends. He studied law for two years before moving to Detroit, Michigan Territory, at age 18. Rice was an assistant engineer on the survey team that charted the route of the Sault Ste. Marie canal/locks between Lake Superior and Lake Huron.
In 1839 Rice took a job as a sutler* at Fort Snelling. He then joined P. Choteau and Company, supervising a number of trading posts engaged in the fur trade with the Winnebago and Ojibway Indians. He developed good working relationships with the Indians, and used his personal influence to overcome the objections of some of the Sioux Indian chiefs who were refusing to sign the treaty of 1851.
Rice paid his own way to Washington to assist representative Henry Sibley in his efforts to establish the Minnesota Territory. Rice was a passionate believer in Minnesota, and especially St. Paul. Beginning in 1849, he built warehouses, erected hotels, and developed business blocks in the territorial capitol. He also used his substantial influence to convince businessmen to invest in or relocate to St. Paul.
He succeeded Sibley as Minnesota Territory's Congressman, serving from 1853 until 1857. His tireless work on the Minnesota Enabling Act helped Minnesota achieve statehood. In 1858 Rice became one of the state's first senators. He did not seek re-election in 1864, choosing instead to mount what would be an unsuccessful campaign for governor against William R. Marshall in 1865.
Rice remained an enthusiastic business "ambassador" for both Minnesota and St. Paul after leaving public office. He donated real estate for many public causes, including the park that bears his name in downtown St. Paul. His relationships and reputation with Indian leaders continued to be highly valued by both the state and federal governments. As a United States Commissioner during 1887 – 1888 he continued to negotiate treaties with the Indians.
Henry Mower Rice died on January 15, 1894, while on a visit to San Antonio, Texas, and is buried in Oakland Cemetery in St Paul. In 1916, the state of Minnesota donated a marble statue of Rice to the U.S. Capitol's National Statuary Hall Collection.
* A sutler was a civilian contractor that provided provisions to the Army