Secrets of the patriarch's bear flag

The flag that belongs to Elder Eldred G. Smith, emeritus patriarch to the LDS Church, is not an ordinary American flag. It is a flag that belonged to Brigham Young. It is a flag that was carried by the Mormon Battalion on its trek to California. It is a flag that has a secret -- a secret kept hidden for more than 160 years.

I sit at my roll-top computer desk and place a photo CD into the computer. A few clicks on a mouse and photographs of the patriarch's flag appear on the screen. They are stunning. Welden C. Andersen, who photographs documents for the Joseph Smith Papers, used a 39-megapixel Hasselblad camera to take the pictures. Every fiber and paint stroke on the old flag are sharp and bright.

The flag is an American flag -- 13 stripes, a blue square canton with 13 white stars surrounding an American bald eagle. So far, this flag isn't strange for its day. In the 19th century, almost anything goes in handmade national flags.

Except for the bear.

In the center of the flag is a standing grizzly bear. Above his head are the words "Life Guards." Below his feet are the words "Always Ready."

Red paint from the stripes shows through cracks in the bear's brown paint.

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