The Museum is housed in the 1915 Bates County Poor Farm and sits on 34 acres on the outskirts of Butler. Harmony Mission, the only Native American Mission School in western Missouri, was founded in 1821 at the request of the Osage. Bates County was established in 1841, and by 1961, 17 nuclear missiles and two launch control centers dotted the landscape. Artifacts from flint arrowheads to Cold War memorabilia all trace the remarkable history of a western Missouri county rich in resources and history.
Bates County is home to the Battle of Island Mound that was fought in October 1862 and marked the first time African-American soldiers fought in the Civil War when the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry fought local guerrillas. Federal Military Order No. 11 issued in 1863 mandating the total removal of the entire population followed by burning towns and farms by Union soldiers is represented on one of three murals painted by a local artist. The other murals portray the Battle of Island Mound and the life of General JO Shelby. Known as the "Rebel who Never Surrendered," Shelby lived in Bates County following the War and became United States Marshal of Western Missouri. He appointed the first African-American Deputy Marshals in that office. The Museum also houses impressive archives and continues building family files. A substantial collection centering on Quantrill and Partisan Guerrillas was obtained in 2019 and brings new dimension to some of the old stories.
Eight exhibit rooms and a large TimeLine Room show how people lived and worked: American Indian artifacts, Civil War, coal mining, pioneer memorabilia, Veterans, Minuteman Missiles era, and other displays. Sci-Fi legend Robert Heinlein, born in Butler is highlighted. A one-room schoolhouse (Nyhart School) can be toured. There is a barn with agriculture displays. A threshing crew cook shack wagon is also on the grounds.
Open April-October. Closed Sundays, Mondays and holidays.