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Three Bad Ass sisters that more people should know about

Eliza Burton “Lyda” Conley, Helena “Lena” Conley, and Ida Conley were Native Americans of the Wyandot tribe, who lived in the Kansas City area in the late 19th and early 20th century. Lyda Conley was the first woman admitted to the bar in Kansas, and the first Native American woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court of the United States.

This in and of itself is pretty remarkable, but it is the case that Lyda argued that makes all three sisters remarkable. The Wyandot Nation are the descendants of the related Wendat (Huron) and the Tionontati (Petun) peoples of what is now Ontario. After the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) drove them out of their respective homelands on the shores of Georgian Bay in 1649, some of the survivors of each group joined up and fled eventually settling in Ohio. In the 1840's, they were relocated from Ohio to Kansas. A cemetery was established within the boundaries of modern day Kansas City. Later, after the Civil War, Wyandot who had not become American citizens were moved again, this time to Oklahoma, where they formed the Wyandotte Nation. However, the Oklahoma group claimed rights to land owned by the tribe back in Kansas, and in 1906 started the process to sell the land.


The Conley sisters would not stand for this. Their mother and sister and countless other relatives were buried in the Cemetery, and they announced their intention to defend it. With help from other Wyandot people, they built a structure on the grounds, which was dubbed Fort Conley, and pledged to protect the land with weapons if necessary. They also put a fence around the property, which was repeatedly pulled down and rebuilt, in the course of the dispute.

They also pursued a legal remedy, with Lyda arguing for an injunction against the government's authorization to sell the property. When that failed she argued all the way to the Supreme Court in 1909. The Court found against the sisters, but even then, they did not give up and they managed to garner enough public support that in 1916, Senator Charles Curtis (later Vice President Curtis under President Hoover), himself of Native American descent, won passage of a bill that protected the land as a national park.

Lyda Conley remained devoted to protecting the site for the rest of her life, and was known to bring nuts and water to the squirrels living in the park, now known as the Wyandot National Burying Ground. In 1937, at the age of 68, she was arrested after chasing some people from the park, and was given the choice of a $10 fine or 10 days in jail. She took the jail time. In 1946 she passed away and was buried on the land she had fought so hard to protect.

In 2008, Sir Ben Kingsley announced his intention to produce a film based on the life of Lyda Conley called "Whispers Like Thunder", though near as I can tell, it's lost in development hell. I don't know about the rest of you, but I would watch the hell out of a movie about these women.


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