The Conley Sisters' Fight To Save Huron Cemetery
Lyda Conley's Law School Graduation Picture
PART I: BACKGROUND
Lyda Conley after arrest for shooting a policeman in the Huron
Research Question: Were
the methods used by the Conley sisters to save the Huron Cemetery effective?
In 1843, the Wyandot Indians were
forced to leave their lands in Michigan and Ohio to move to Indian territory
in Kansas. In July of 1843, they began arriving in Kansas.
They first located on a strip of federal land between the Missouri state
line and the Kansas River. (currently known as the West Bottoms).
The Wyandots were expecting to buy land from the Shawnee but were unable
to do so. Unable to find suitable land for settlement, the Wyandots
began to die from sickness and exposure. The first burials were carried
out in the what is now known as the Huron Indian Cemetery. In December
1843, they signed a treaty with the Delawares to buy 24,960 acres and were
able to move to higher ground.
Several disasters struck the area in the next
six years. First was a flood in June of 1844 and a cholera epidemic occurred
in 1849. In spite of these obstacles, the area developed and businesses
such as a ferry run by the Wyandots and Chouteau's farm and fur trading
business were established. Schools and churches were also founded.
The cemetery continued to be used by area residents. However, at the turn
of the century developers threatened the existence of the of the cemetery.
The Conley sisters won national fame for their unlady-like
behavior in 1904. They felt so strongly about keeping their parents'
graves from being moved with others in the cemetery to make way for sale
of the land and commercial development that they resorted to building a
"fort" in the cemetery and carrying a gun. Some said that Lena was
involved in sorcery. One of the sisters would take her case to the
highest court in the land. How did a woman of one eighth Wyandot
Indian blood earn the right to be heard in the Supreme Court? Were
the Conley sisters successful in saving the cemetery from destruction?
Why did they feel so strongly that the cemetery must be saved?
The Huron Indian Cemetery began to be used in 1843. It
is one of the oldest cemeteries in Kansas. Many important Wyandot
chiefs and relatives of the Conley sisters were buried in the Cemetery.
The Conley sisters wished to be buried in the cemetery with their relatives
in the same place without disturbance of the graves. Their efforts
were to shape the course of their lives
Summary taken from The Wyandot Indians and Huron Indian Cemetery:
A chronology compiled by Larry Hancks, November 1997.