After the people west of the newly-formed state of Minnesota twice requested authorization to create a stabilized government, President Buchanan signed an act establishing the Dakota Territory in 1861. The First Legislature of Dakota Territory was elected in September of that year, and when they met for the first time on March 17, 1862, they had to cover a complex agenda, setting up a system of government, establishing codes and rules, defining physical boundaries, creating tax policy, and passing various other laws.
During that first session, many questions requiring votes came to the floor. However, the men had no ballot box. Their solution was to pass around a hat. But soon a wooden ballot box was made, complete with a lock, and they used it until the session ended in May. The little box that helped shape North and South Dakota was soon forgotten.
The years passed; the Territory was divided into North and South Dakota, and the old Territorial Capitol in Yankton became a business college. Mr. Norcross, who ran the college was doing some repair work one day when he came upon the long-neglected ballot box. When he moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 1909, he took the old box with him.
John Hafey, his North Dakota-raised nephew, also moved to Michigan, and one night, Mr. Norcross had him over and showed him the box, in which John showed extreme interest. When his parents visited, he took them to his uncle's house and showed them the historic artifact.
They all agreed the box should be sent to the State Historical Society of North Dakota for preservation. On this date in 1931, the Hafeys put the box on display in the town of Edgley, where they lived, and the town commended them for returning this historic piece to the state.
The old, scarred, and once-forgotten box was brought to Bismarck on the 24th of June 1931 by Wilbur Hafey and his son John, and it remains to this day in the collection of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.
Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker
The Edgeley Mail, Thursday, June 18, 1931, p.1