Wyandotte National Burying Ground Kansas City (Downtown KCK)

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The Conley Sisters played a significant role in preserving the Wyandotte National Burying Ground. It’s also known as the Huron Indian Cemetery, and you’ll find it in Kansas City, Kansas. The cemetery received designation on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. It also received designation as a National Historic Landmark in 2016. Admittedly, it owes much of its survival to the dedication and persistence of the Conley Sisters. The Conley Sisters’ story is synonymous with the cemetery’s story. Here’s a link back to the overview post for the entire trip.

Wyandotte National Burying Ground
The Conley Sister plots, along with other family members

Lyda Conley emerged as the leading force among the sisters. She become the first Native American woman to argue a case before the United States Supreme Court in her efforts to protect the cemetery. As an attorney and member of the Wyandotte tribe, she gained national attention when presenting her case in 1910. The tireless work of the Conley Sisters prevented the sale of the cemetery. And also ensured its preservation for future generations, securing its place as a significant landmark in Kansas City’s history. Here’s a link to more about the cemetery.

Wyandotte National Burying Ground Table of Contents

History of the Conley Sisters and their role in the Wyandotte National Burying Ground

The Wyandotte Nation originally resided near the Great Lakes. Over time, the Wyandotte tribe faced displacement caused by European settlers and conflicts with other tribes. By the 18th century, tribal members relocated to present-day Ontario, Canada, and areas near Detroit Bay in Michigan and Ohio. In the middle 1800s, the Wyandottes relocated to Kansas and then partially to Oklahoma. Some stayed in Kansas rather than relocate.

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Subsequently, Lyda Conley, aka Eliza Burton Conley, became a prominent figure in the fight for the Wyandotte National Burying Ground. Keep in mind the pivotal role she and her sisters played in preserving the national landmark. Of course, their work also played a pivotal role in Wyandotte’s history in Kansas.

The Conley Sisters took a valiant stand against the city and real estate developers. That group sought to expand downtown development onto the cemetery grounds. The sisters and the tribe became successful in this endeavor, as the cemetery remains protected today.

Though the sisters have since passed away, their graves lie beside their parents in the Wyandotte National Burying Ground. However, their perseverance serves as a testament to their unwavering commitment to the preservation of their ancestors’ resting place.

Wyandotte National Burying Ground History

Cemetery views today

The site gained national recognition mainly due to the efforts of the Conley sisters – Eliza “Lyda” Burton Conley, Ida, and Helena. In the early 19th century, developers sought to build on the land, posing a threat to the burial grounds. Their relentless fight also led Lyda Conley to become the first Native American woman to argue before the US Supreme Court on the cemetery’s behalf.

Today, the Wyandotte National Burying Ground stands as a testament to the sister’s dedication and perseverance in preserving their heritage. The cemetery is filled with headstones and other markers that reflect the stories of those laid to rest here. It serves as a reminder of the importance of safeguarding cultural and historical sites for future generations.

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Ida’s Curse and Preservation Efforts

Showing the open spaces

The Conley Sisters took a strong stand to protect the Wyandotte National Burying Ground, a sacred site for the Wyandotte people. One of the sisters, Ida, supposedly placed a curse on the cemetery to deter potential vandals and trespassers. This curse, designed to bring misfortune to anyone who violated the sacred ground, apparently worked to keep the burial site preserved and undisturbed!

In 1906, the sisters, led by Lyda Conley, went to great lengths to protect the site. They armed themselves and built a fort, which came to be known as Fort Conley. The sisters padlocked the gate and posted warning signs, proclaiming “Trespass at Your Peril,” making it clear that anyone who dared to encroach on the sacred land would face serious consequences.

Over the years, there have been numerous efforts by various groups and individuals to restore the Wyandotte National Burying Ground. In 1998, after decades of disputes, the two main groups involved in the preservation struggle agreed to maintain the burial ground for only religious, cultural, and related purposes, respecting its sacred history.

These preservation efforts have contributed to the continued protection of the land. The actions ensured that the memory and heritage of the Wyandotte people remain honored. The curse and defiant actions taken by the Conley Sisters have left a lasting legacy in the Wyandotte National Burying Ground’s history. Their actions served as a symbol of their determination to preserve their ancestral sacred ground.

In the early 19th century, the Conley sisters, led by Lyda Conley, took on a legal battle to protect the Wyandotte National Burying Ground in Kansas City from being sold and developed. Lyda Conley, a Wyandotte-American lawyer, became the first woman admitted to the Kansas Bar Association. After completing her education at the Kansas City School of Law and Haskell Institute (now known as Haskell Indian Nations University), Lyda gained admission to the Missouri Bar.

The Conley sisters took on the battle to save the sacred cemetery. Selling the cemetery, clearly in violation of the treaties, became another wedge between the Wyandotte tribe and the federal government. Lyda Conley’s persistence in her lawsuit against the sale of the burial ground caught the attention of then-US Congressman Charles Curtis. He went on to become the 31st Vice President of the United States. With his support, Lyda Conley was able to bring her case to the U.S. Supreme Court, making her one of the first women to ever argue before the highest court in the land.

The Supreme Court

Although the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately ruled against the Conley sisters, the sisters’ determined efforts to protect the cemetery ultimately proved successful. The Wyandotte National Burying Ground in Kansas City, Kansas, received designation on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Following that, the place landed on National Historic Landmark Registry in 2016. This recognition was achieved, in part, due to the passionate and unwavering advocacy of the Conley sisters, particularly Lyda.

In the years that followed, historians and scholars have acknowledged the significance of Lyda Conley in the fight for Native American rights and the preservation of sacred places. Her groundbreaking legal career and bold approach to defending her community’s interests continue to serve as an inspiring example of persistence and dedication in the face of adversity.

The Battle of Westport and Civil War Significance

The Battle of Westport, an instrumental event during the American Civil War, played a significant role in shaping the future of the Conley Sisters’ Wyandotte National Burying Ground. Notably, this struggle, the largest engagement west of the Mississippi River, took place in 1864 near Kansas City, Missouri. The Union forces emerged victorious, ultimately leading to the Confederacy’s retreat from Missouri.

As tensions intensified within the country, the Wyandotte tribe and their burial ground were also impacted. The tribe was initially neutral during the conflict, but some members eventually sided with the Union. While the burial ground was not directly impacted by the battle itself, the effects of the war rippled throughout the region. The shifting alliances among the Native Americans living in the area would have repercussions for years to come.

In the decades following the Civil War, the significance of the burial ground in the broader context of American history only grew. With renewed interest in preserving the heritage of Native American tribes, the story of the Conley Sisters and their tireless efforts to protect the Wyandotte National Burying Ground gained prominence. The cemetery’s connection to the Battle of Westport and the Civil War, in general, serves as a reminder of the intertwined nature of American history and the importance of preserving sacred spaces for future generations.

The Conley Sisters’ resolve to guard and maintain the cemetery proclaimed a testament to their dedication to their ancestors. In addition, the significance of the burial ground within their community grew. By linking this historic cemetery to the tumultuous events of the Civil War, the Battle of Westport highlights the importance of preserving our shared history and honoring the diverse cultures that have shaped the United States.

Indian Removal Act, Wyandotte Nation, and its Effects

The Indian Removal Act of 1830 played a significant role in shaping the history of the Wyandotte Nation. This act marked a departure from the United States policy of respecting the legal and political rights of the American Indians. The act authorized the voluntary relocation of Native Americans to the lands west of the Mississippi River. Sadly, this was frequently abused by government officials and resulted in forced removals.

The Wyandotte people were among those affected by this act. They had to leave their ancestral lands in Michigan and Ohio and move to the area where the Missouri River meets the Kaw. This relocation involved a journey of around 700 people by steamboat down the Mississippi River and then up the Missouri River.

The land they settled in eventually became the site of the Wyandotte National Burying Ground. As a direct result of the Indian Removal Act, the Wyandotte people found themselves in a new environment. They had to adapt their customs, traditions, and way of life to the new region. The area chosen for the National Burying Ground initially belonged to the Wyandotte tribe, but it was given protected status by an 1855 treaty between the U.S. government and the tribe.

The effects of the Indian Removal Act were far-reaching and continue to reverberate through the history of the Wyandotte Nation. Today, the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma seeks to preserve and promote its heritage, culture, and traditions in the face of the challenges presented by the forced removal from its ancestral lands. They symbolize their resilience and adaptability through the Willow Branches in their cultural emblem. The willow’s ability to regenerate after winter or famine represents the tribe’s perpetual renewal of life.

Wrapping up:

Wyandotte National Burying Ground
Showing downtown in the background

The Indian Removal Act of 1830, and its effects on the Wyandotte Nation, serve as a stark reminder of the challenges faced by indigenous communities in the United States. It emphasizes the importance of preserving the history and culture of these communities amidst the adversity they have faced.

Of course, the prime location of the cemetery forced conflict between the tribe and the city. As you can see (on the right), the land lies in downtown Kansas City, Kansas.

Real Estate and Downtown Kansas City

In the early 20th century, the Wyandotte National Burying Ground faced a significant threat due to the development of downtown Kansas City, Kansas. As the city grew, the cemetery’s land became prime real estate, attracting the attention of developers. The sacred site was home to the remains of the Conley sisters’ mother, sister, and many members of their Wyandotte tribe.

More Conley Sisters

The Conley sisters—Eliza “Lyda,” Helena “Lena,” and Ida—proactively engaged in protecting the burial grounds. In protest, they built a sturdy fort on the cemetery grounds to safeguard their ancestral resting place.

Thanks to the sisters’ persistent efforts, the Wyandotte National Burying Ground, also known as the Huron Indian Cemetery, was registered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2016. Today, this tranquil oasis of green is nestled amidst the bustling Minnesota Avenue in downtown Kansas City, Kansas.

The story of the Conley sisters’ fight to protect the sacred cemetery highlights the significance of cultural preservation within the rapidly developing Kansas Territory. By successfully guarding the Wyandotte National Burying Ground against real estate developers, the Conley sisters ensured that this important piece of their tribal history remains intact for future generations to appreciate and honor.

Final Conclusion about the Wyandotte National Burying Ground

Wyandotte National Burying Ground

The Conley sisters, led by Eliza “Lyda” Burton Conley, played a pivotal role in the preservation of the Wyandotte National Burying Ground in Kansas City, Kansas. As Native American women, their fierce determination and legal battle set a remarkable example for future generations.

Lyda Conley, a Wyandotte by heritage, utilized her knowledge as a lawyer to fiercely protest against the selling of the cemetery, the burial ground of her ancestors. With her sisters Ida and Helena by her side, they took it upon themselves to erect markers and patrol the grounds, ensuring their protected status.

The cemetery, also known as the Huron Indian Cemetery, holds significant historical and cultural value for the Wyandotte Nation. Of course, the national landmark designation safeguards it from any future attempts of development or selling, preserving the sacred site for generations to come.

The Conley sisters’ unwavering dedication to protecting the burial ground in Kansas City, Kansas, saved the cemetery. However, it also sheds light on the strength and resilience of Native American women. Their story serves as an inspiring example of perseverance in the face of adversity.

Classic Rock Recollection

“Up On Cripple Creek” by The Band

When I get off of this mountain
You know where I wanna go?
Straight down the Mississippi River
To the Gulf of Mexico
To Lake Charles, Louisiana
Little Bessie, girl that I once knew
And she told me just to come on by
If there’s anything she could do

Written by Robbie Robertson
(He’s Canadian and from the Six Nations in Ontario. Canadians refer to the indigenous peoples as “First Nation.”)

#mwtravelcon23 #wyandottenationalburyingground #wyandotte #kckcemetery