Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Amongst a sea of concrete in a restless city stands a cemetery that predates the Civil War. The final resting place of at least four hundred Wyandots, Huron Indian Cemetery reflects the tribe’s long history. Today a sense of calm surrounds the sacred grounds, canceling out the noise of Minnesota Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas, but this grassy space was once the target of controversy and legal dispute. Beneath the century-old trees, surrounded by her immediate family members and Wyandot ancestors, lies Eliza “Lyda” Burton Conley, attorney and historic preservationist. Without her dedication, strength, and love for her people, the cemetery would now be a distant memory replaced by a parking lot or warehouse. Conley earned her law degree to save the Huron Indian Cemetery. Using that degree, and physical occupation of the grounds, Conley fought to save the cemetery with the help of her sisters Helena and Ida. Conley stood against those who threatened the cemetery, making history when she presented the case to the United States Supreme Court in 1910. However, defending the cemetery became Conley’s full-time occupation. Knowing the importance of funerary customs in Wyandot culture, preserving this aspect of her ancestor’s history was more important to her than money, or life itself. Conley made it clear that the destruction of the cemetery and Wyandot remains would happen “over her dead body.” The Huron Indian Cemetery, protected as a National Historic Site since 1971, stands as a testament to history, heritage, and the difference one person can make. Against seemingly insurmountable odds, Conley fought to save the last remnant of Wyandot heritage in the state of Kansas. Though she did not secure its final safety herself, Conley’s fight on behalf of the dead led to the sites’ eventual preservation. For that, history owes Lyda Conley the courtesy of remembering her name.
Copyright 2016 Samantha Rae Dean
Dean, Samantha Rae, ""As Long As Grass Grows And Water Flows": Lyda Conley And The Huron Indian Cemetery" (2016). Master's Theses. 31.