Colorful Past of Huron Cemetery Told In Protest of Proposed Sale.

The Kansas City Kansan
July 13, 1947

Editor's note: The author of the following article, Grant  W. Harrington, has long been interested in the history of Kansas and especially  that of Wyandotte county. He has written extensively on historical subjects, including a book which is entitled Historic Spots in Wyandotte

    Tramp, tramp, tramp they are rolling in again. From Washington comes the story that an Oklahoma congressman has introduced a bill in congress calling for the sale of Huron cemetery in Kansas City Kansas for business purposes and the, scattering of the dust of the long dead wherever the winds may sift it.

    Years ago when they first began their watch Lyda B. Conley asked "What is there left of an Indian buried fifty years ago in his blanket. It might also be asked -What is there left of the Kansas soldier dead taken from the battle of the Blue and buried in this sacred ground? It might also be asked what is there left of the one veteran of the war of 1812 who found his way to Kansas and is buried here?"

Colorful Background

    The Huron cemetery in the heart of Kansas is one of the most historic spots in Kansas. Around it have been written some of the most colorful stories in Kansas. It is one of the most beautiful spots in Kansas. Given below are some of the items which combine to make its story.

    It was as early as 1825 that the government adopted the policy of settling all of the Indian tribes in that then uninhabited land lying west of the newly created state of Missouri.  The Shawnees were. settled on the strip of land lying south of the Kansas river. The Delawares in 1829 were given that strip lying between the Kansas and the Missouri rivers and stretching out into the buffalo country.

    It was in 1842 that this government policy caught up with the Wyandotts. In October of that year the Wyandotts for various considerations ceded to the United States its lands, some 114,140 acres, in Ohio and Michigan. One of the considerations was that the Wyandott nation was to have a tract of land West of the Mississippi to contain 148,000 acres.

Strangers in Strange Land

    Early in 1843 the Wyandotts started for the land of promise. A wagon train was formed. It took seven days to reach the wharf at Cincinnati. Here they took boats for the new home. They reached the mouth of the Kansas river only to find that there were no lands for them and that they were strangers in a strange land.

    When the Missouri boundary line was surveyed their was left a small strip of land between the Missouri line and the Kansas river. This strip was still Government property. Here the Wyandotts set up their tents.

    Across the Kansas river to the west lay the Delaware lands. Negotiations were at once commenced with the Delawares which eventually, resulted in the purchase from the Delawares of thirty-nine sections of land This covered what is now tile second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth wards of Kansas City, Kansas and the territory to the West , reaching out to Muncie.

Epidemic Broke Out

    While the Wyandotts were still in camp an epidemic broke out and some sixty of their number died. Their bodies were carried the Kansas river and buried.

    Burials continued in this Huron cemetery. It became the special care of the Wyandott council. It was enclosed. The minute book of the tribe, now owned by the Kansas Historical society shows frequent references to it such as payment for upkeep and providing for headstones for the graves of the chiefs buried there.

    The Wyandotts awere granted their lands in severalty and so on the first day of February, 1855, a treaty was signed at Washington by George W. Manypenny as commissioner on the part of the United States and Tau-roo-mee, Matthew Mudeater, John Hicks, Silas Armstrong, J. Clark and Joel Walker, chiefs and delegates duly authorized by the tribe to sign the treaty.

Became Citizens

    Article I of the treaty provided that the tribal relations should be dissolved and that the Wyandotts be declared to be citizens of the United States.

    Article 2 provided that the Wyandotts cede to the United States the tract of land situated in the forks of the Missouri and Kansas rivers which was purchased by tribe of the Delawares, the object of which session being that the said lands shall be subdivided assigned and reconvened by patent to the individuals and members of the Wyandott nation in -severalty.

    There were some reservations made. One read "The portion now unclosed and used as a public burying ground shall be permanently reserved and appropriated for that purpose."

    The government took made surveys, and distribution. The report described 281 individual allotments. Number 282 under the heading "Land reserved as per 2nd Article of Treaty 282 Public Burial Ground" describes the cemetery by metes and bounds. The irregular shape is no doubt due to the fact that the commissioners took the treaty seriously and so followed the fence surrounding the enclosure.

Town Incorporated

    In 1857 the town of Wyandotte was incorporated. A double block reaching from Minnesota on the north to Ann on the south and front Sixth street on the east to Seventh street on the west was dedicated for public purposes. Included in this tract is the Huron cemetery.  The four corners of the block are dedicated for church purposes. All the rest of the block left outside the cemetery tract is dedicated for seminary purposes. The Commercial National bank, the Security National bank, the Grund hotel and The Scottish Rite temple now occupy the four corners. The city library with its beautiful grounds and municipal rose garden now  occupies the part of the tract marked seminary.

    In 1864 there came the Battle of the Blue. After the battle the Kansas soldier dead were gathered and buried in this cemetery.

Part of Group Left

     A remnant of the Wyandott tribe drifted away to the Indian Territory   23, 1867, the government made a new treaty with this remnant.  Tawromee, or John Hat, and John I Karaho are named in this treaty as representing the Wyandotts.

Issue Document

     More than twenty years went by and Kansas City real estate speculators began looking at this cemetery.  They went after the remnant of the tribe down in the
    Indian territory.  On March 22, 1890, this revived tribal council issued a lengthy document setting forth that the city of Wyandotte had grown, up and around this burial ground; that the cemetery was neglected and subject to desecration; and that the graves ought to be removed to Quindaro cemetery.  William E. Connelly was given a power of attorney to have the graves removed and to make a sale of the old cemetery.  The Connelly commission was to be 15 per cent of the gross amount of the sale.  This document is now in the city library.  Congress had passed an act providing for a public building in Kansas City and bids for a site were asked to be submitted on April 15, 1899.  Here was a possible buyer for a portion of the ground fronting on Seventh street and the real estate dealers, acting under the Connely power of attorney got busy.

Many in Protest

     The storm broke and protests came from the resident Wyandotts. In a communication to the Kansas City Star  dated April 30, 1899  R. B. Armstrong, voiced the sentiment of the opposition:

     The Kansas City Star of June 7, 1899, tells of the chartering of the Wyandot Cemetery association to take charge of the old Indian burying ground.  'The directors were Mrs.  Susan Betton, Mrs. Lillian Hale Walker, Justin Walker, Walter R. Armstrong and William McMullen, all related to the tribe of the Wyandott. The government did not buy the site, but placed its building on the east side of Seventh street.
Would Have Permitted Sale

     Seven years passed and then on June 21, 1906 there appeared tucked away in a 665 page congressional appropriation bill an item authorizing the secretary of the interior to make a sale of the tract of lands located in Kansas City Kansas reserved for a public burial ground, under treaty made with the Wyandott tribe on the 31st day of January, 1885.

    The bill further provided for the! removal of the remains of persons Interred in said burial ground and their reinterment  in the Wyandot  cemetery at Quindaro, Kan.,  and the purchase and placing of appropriate monuments over the remains in the Quindaro cemetery. Certain claims of the Wyandotts were to be paid.

     Then things began to happen.  The commissioners appointed by the secretary of interior were preparing to remove the graves.  Two girls Lyda and Hellena Conley, lineal descendants of the Wyandotts, whose father and mother were buried here, determined to save the graves of their ancestors from spoliation.  The two girls took possession of the cemetery.  The gate was padlocked and placarded with "Trespass at Your Peril" signs.  A little house or fort  was built over the graves of their father and mother and death was avowed to any one who dared to enter the cemetery, to attempt to remove the bodies.

Hauled Into Court

     The two girls were subjected to, all sort of persecution and petty annoyances.  A federal judge threatened incarceration for contempt of court: a U. S. marshall thundered: the girls were arrested an  hauled into police court on the charge of disturbing the peace, Fort Conley was burned but another fort rose on its ashes.

     Lyda B. Conley had studied law.  Abe filed a suit in the federal court against the secretary, of the interior to restrain him from selling or interfering with the cemeterv.  Slowly the case dragged it way thru the lower courts to the supreme court of the United States.  These sacred precincts had never been invaded by a woman.  Sen. William A.  Harris of Kansas plead with the court.  The court waived its rules, and Miss Conley was allowed to appear and present her case.

Announce Decision

 On January 31, 19-1.0, there came the decision of the Supreme, Court. " It is found in the 216 U. S., Page S4, the title of the action being Conley vs.  Ballinger, secretary of the interior.  It is short.  Miss Conley is bowled out of court on the theory that she cannot establish a legal or equitable title of the value of $2,000, or indeed any right to have the cemetery undisturbed by the United States. In the body of the opinion the court says:

     But the desecration was not to be Cong.  Charley Curtis visited Kansas City.  W. R. Honnell. an outstanding civic leader in Kansas City served as his guide.  He took him thru the cemetery and convinced him that no one in Kansas City, outside a few real estate sharks, wanted the cemetery destroyed.  The congressman promised to get the law repealed, and did.  The obnoxious statute was repealed in June. 1913.

Secured Appropriation

 Congressman Curtis moved again. 1 In June, 1913, he secured a $10,000 government appropriation for the upkeep of the Huron cemetery.  This appropriation is used by the government to build retaining walls around the cemetery and make other needed improvements.  There was $1,000 left in this appropriation which was given to Kansas City Kansas.  In return the city agreed:

     This agreement is dated March 20, 1918.  It is signed by Harvey B. president of Haskell institute for commissioner of Indian affairs and H. A. Mendenhall, mayor.

     On May 16, 1924, the Daughters of 1812 dedicated a monument over the grave of Charles Garrett, the one veteran of the War of 1812 who found his last resting place in Kansas.

     On May 27, 1946, Lyda Burton Conley, the heroine of Huron Park cemetery, died.  She is buried in this cemetery beside her father and mother.

    Memorial Sunday, 1947, the Seventh Street Methodist church, the church the Wyandotts brought with them from Ohio, assisted by the veterans of the Spanish American War and Mayor Clarke E. Tucker dedicated a monument in Huron cemetery over the grave of Lyda B. Conley.

     What will come next?  Ask Senators Capper and Reed and Congressman Schrivner.  They have the answer.