Published on January 24, 2013 by Amy
Eliza Burton “Lyda” Conley (ca. 1869 – 1946) was an American lawyer of Native American and European descent, the first woman admitted to the Kansas bar. She was notable for her campaign to prevent the sale and development of the Huron Cemetery in Kansas City, now known as the Wyandot National Burying Ground. She challenged the government in court, and in 1909 she was the first Native American woman admitted to argue a case before the Supreme Court of the United States.
dna testing, dna ancestry testing, ancestry, genealogy, indian genealogy records, paternity testing, turquoise jewelry, native american jewelry
Her case appears to be the first in which “a plaintiff argued that the burying grounds of Native Americans were entitled to federal protection.” Conley gained the support of Kansas Senator Charles Curtis, who proposed and led passage of legislation in 1916 to prevent the sale and establish the Huron Cemetery as a federal park. In 1971 the Huron Cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
From the late 19th century, the cemetery was at the heart of a struggle between the present-day Wyandot Nation of Kansas and the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma. In 1998 the two groups finally came to agreement to preserve the Wyandot National Burying Ground only for religious, cultural and related purposes in keeping with its sacred history.
Lyda Conley was the youngest of four daughters born to Elizabeth Burton Zane Conley (1838–1879), a multi-racial member of the Wyandot Nation. Their father was Andrew Syrenus Conley (about 1830-1885), a Yankee of Scots-Irish and English descent, who migrated west from New Canaan, Connecticut to Ohio and Kansas. Her family history was typical of the Wyandot nation then, as over the years many members had married European Americans, and members were increasingly multiracial. Her family’s moves west were also typical of the Wyandots’ need to have a place outside of European-American encroachment.
Elizabeth Zane was the granddaughter of Isaac Zane, who had been captured as a child in Virginia by the Wyandots and adopted into the tribe. Isaac Zane lived with the Wyandot nation for 17 years and married White Crane, daughter of Chief Tarhe. They went with the Wyandot to Ohio, where Zane founded Zanesfield. Some of their children were born there, including Elizabeth’s mother Hannah, and grandchildren, such as Elizabeth herself. In 1843 the Wyandots left Ohio and migrated to Kansas in a removal under United States government pressure.
Elizabeth Zane and Andrew Conley married 1860 at Logan County, Ohio. They raised their daughters on a 64 acres (0.26 km2)-farm in present-day Wyandotte County. Elizabeth had received the land at age 17 in 1855, when Wyandot tribal land was allocated in severalty. (Later the property collapsed into the Missouri River and the grown sisters moved into Kansas City.) With their variety of heritage, the Conley daughters were one-sixteenth Wyandot, and some parts Scots-Irish and English.
The daughters were encouraged to seek education. Helena (also known as Lena) graduated from Park College in Missouri. Lyda Conley graduated from Kansas City School of Law in 1902 and was the first woman admitted to the Kansas bar. Sarah died at a relatively young age. Ida, Helena/Lena and Lyda were active in civic and public life. They shared a house in Kansas City, where they lived all their lives together. None married.