By Lucas Lord
In its 60 years of existence, the Bates County Museum has amassed a wide variety of artifacts. While many donations have been given by locals trying to preserve their family history, some artifacts have a more mysterious past.
Recently, a flag of unknown origin was discovered mixed in with donations. Museum Curator Peggy Buhr said she was determined to identify it.
“We have hundreds of donations and files, so when you go through a box or a collection for the first time, you might not know what some things are. The flag was one of those things.”
Found inside a box tucked away in one of the museum’s many closets, Buhr said she found the tattered flag. The red flag, with a blue band at the top, was adorned with some yellow designs. But there was no information about what it was and when it would have been donated.
“The flag was in a box of other things that had been donated a long time ago, so we had no idea what it was,” Buhr said. “I’ve been looking through our donor logs to try and track down who exactly from Butler donated it, but I haven’t had any luck yet. Early on, the museum would use masking tape to write the donor numbers and information on. Over the years, the tapes have dried and faded, so often they are no longer usable.”
Buhr said she was determined to identify the tattered flag and how it got into their hands, so she began asking friends for help. Quickly, it was identified.
“It is a Moro flag, used during the Philippine-American war dating 1899,” Buhr said. “The sword with a wave is known as a kris. It is one of many belonging to the Sultanate of Sulu. Cornell University has a similar flag in their collection. Ours is a little different, but it has the swords and the cross.”
Buhr said the flag was one of many belonging to regional warlords of the Philippines during the turn of the 20th century and that each one would be slightly unique. Despite some water damage, she said the flag is in fairly good condition.
“Each warlord had their own type of flag, so ours is a little bit different from the one in Cornell’s collection,” Buhr said. “The theory is that there was probably a young man from Bates County who was there fighting in the war and brought this back home as a souvenir.”
While frowned upon now, Buhr said bringing back souvenirs from war used to be a common practice.
“Back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon and it was an accepted practice,” she said. “Our assumption is that whoever it belonged to brought this home after they were over in the Philippines fighting. There used to be quite a bit of money in Bates County because of our coal industry. There were some wealthy families in the area who would do grand world tours and when they would come back, they would look for ways to preserve their trophies and souvenirs. That makes up a lot of what the museum has.”
While Buhr said she is happy the museum had finally identified it, she said she is unsure of how to display it.
“When you are a large museum with an unlimited budget you can follow best practices all the time, but when you are a small museum with a small budget you do what you can,” Buhr said. “This is so fragile it would really require professional mounting by someone who really knew what they were doing.”
For now, Buhr plans to pack it away until someone asks to see it again.
“In order to display this, it would cost a lot of money so for now it’s packed away following best practices,” Buhr said. “I hope in the future we can find a more permanent spot for it, but for now it’s safely stored away and remains available to anyone who wants to come see it or any of the many other artifacts in our collection.”