"History and Stories of Nebraska"
by Addison Erwin Sheldon

Produced by Connie Snyder


Rock Bluffs is a quiet little village in Cass County on the Missouri River. It is one of the earliest settlements in the state. Its name will always be joined to an important event in Nebraska history, for on the counting of its vote depended whether Nebraska should come into the union a Republican or a Democratic state. And the counting of its vote was made to depend on the ballot box going to dinner.

At the election in June, 1866, the people of Nebraska voted upon the question whether Nebraska should become a state. At the same time they voted for state officers whom they would have provided it became a state. The Republicans were in favor of making Nebraska a state at once and named David Butler of Pawnee County as candidate for governor. The Democrats opposed making Nebraska a state at once, and named J. Sterling Morton of Otoe County as candidate for governor. The people were nearly evenly divided and there was great excitement.

There were no telephones and very few telegraph lines in Nebraska in those days. The settlements were scattered and it took a long time to find out how the people had voted. When the returns came in it was found that about one hundred more had voted to have Nebraska become a state at once than had voted against it.

Rock Bluffs House where Election was Held in 1866

A legislature also was voted for at this time, which was to choose two United States Senators. In Rock Bluffs precinct there were cast 107 votes for the Democrats and 49 for the Republicans. With these votes counted the Democrats would elect six members of the legislature from Cass County. Without them the Republicans would elect all six members. It was found that the election officers who had charge of the ballot box in Rock Bluffs precinct had gone at noon from the house where the election was held to a house a mile away to eat dinner and had taken the ballot box with them. The law said that the ballot box should be in sight of the voters on election day from nine o'clock in the morning until six o'clock at night. The county clerk and the men who helped him to canvass the votes at Plattsmouth threw out all the votes from Rock Bluffs precinct because the ballot box went to dinner instead of staying at the polls. This gave the six Republican candidates a majority in Cass County.

When the legislature met to elect two United States Senators the two Republican candidates, John M. Thayer and T. W. Tipton, each received 29 votes and the two Democratic candidates, J. Sterling Morton and A. J. Poppleton, each received 21 votes. If the Rock Bluffs vote had been counted the two Democrats would have been elected.

There was a great outcry by the Democrats at the time and in the records and newspapers of those early days you may still read the hot words spoken and written about this affair. The men who fought each other in those fierce early political battles have nearly all passed away. Little now remains of the village of Rock Bluffs. A few old houses only exist on the old site near the Missouri River, six miles from a railroad and only a few of the people there now know the story of the ballot box that went to dinner and changed the politics of a state.


  1. Do you think the vote of Rock Bluffs precinct should have been thrown out?
  2. Was Nebraska made permanently a Republican instead of a Democratic state by this action?