Eliza "Lyda" Conley
In July of 1843, 664 Wyandotte Nation citizens were moved from Ohio to Kansas. While camped along the Missouri River, illness swept through the camps and 50 to 100 people died. Their bodies were carried across the river to the Kansas Territory, to a ridge which overlooked the Kansas and Missouri Rivers
Huron Indian Cemetery was established to bury the bodies.
A few years, the Wyandotte were granted the land including the ridge and used as a cemetery.
By the 1890s, the Huron Indian Cemetery was prime land and developers, wanting to purchase the cemetery land, negotiated with the Wyandotte Nation in Oklahoma. In 1906, the Secretary of the Interior was instructed to sell the land with the remains to be moved to the Quindío Cemetery.
Four years prior Eliza Burton “Lyda” Conley, a Wynandotte Nation tribal citizen and one of the first women attorneys- graduated from Kansas City School of Law in 1902 and became the first woman admitted to the Kansas bar.
The sale of the Wyandotte Nation’s sacred burial ground to the U.S. federal government in 1906 upset Eliza “Lyda” Conley, who was a member of the tribe. Her mother and ancestors were buried on the sacred ground. So she and sisters launched a campaign to protect and preserve the Huron Cemetery in Kansas City. They took up camp just outside the cemetery, nicknamed “Fort Conley”, padlocked the gate, took turns standing guard with muskets drawn, and put up signs that read “Trespass at Your Peril.”
Conley’s stood her ground for years. And in 1909, her fight to protect her tribe’s sacred land went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. That year, Conley put her legal skills to work and became the only third woman, the second female attorney, and the first Native American woman to argue a case in front of the Supreme Court. Many believe her case, in which she argued that Native American burial grounds were entitled to federal protection, was the first of its kind, too.
Sadly, the Supreme Court dismissed Conley’s case. But nevertheless, she persisted. And in 1916, the cemetery was designated a federal park. Today, the cemetery—renamed Wyandot National Burial Ground—enjoys National Historic Landmark status. Conley was laid to rest in the cemetery following her death in 1946.