Election in Rock Bluff, 1866

Rock Bluff, Cass County, during territorial days was one of Nebraska’s thriving river towns although almost nothing of it remains today. The town was founded January 6, 1856. It soon developed into an important outfitting point for freight wagons crossing the Plains, and the Rock Bluff landing was visited regularly by Missouri River steamers. A pioneer college, Naomi Institute, flourished for a number of years under the direction of Joseph Patterson.

Perhaps the most notable incident in the town’s history was that involving a ballot box that “went to dinner.” During the referendum of 1866 Nebraska voters were deciding whether the territory should become a state, and if statehood was achieved, whether the first officers would be Republicans or Democrats. David Butler headed the Republican ticket and J. Sterling Morton the Democratic one.

The political parties were almost evenly divided in Nebraska Territory, and the election was close. In the precinct of Rock Bluff, Cass County, 107 votes were cast for the Democrats, more that twice as many as for the Republicans, and enough to put Cass County in the Democratic column. However, the county canvassers decided that because the ballot box had been taken to the home of one of the election officials over the noon hour, when the polls were declared closed, all Rock Bluff precinct votes would have to be thrown out. The same hour recess was taken that evening. The reasons alleged by the county board for suppressing the vote of Rock Bluffs were “fraud, irregularity in adjourning the polls at noon and evening, and the fact that the poll book and tally sheet were not separately certified.”

The result was that Cass County went Republican, and its representatives furnished the edge in the legislature that enabled the Republicans to elect Nebraska’s first two United States senators, John W. Thayer and Thomas W. Tipton. Democrats protested in vain that the two adjournments by the election board were technical irregularities only, and did not justify disallowing the Rock Bluff Precinct votes.

Because of this celebrated case, Rock Bluff achieved a permanent place in Nebraska’s political history. However, when the railroad came through Omaha, Rock Bluff went into a serious decline. Today it is a ghost town.

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