Tag Archives: Kansas

Fort Conley

Summer 1906, Kansas City, Kansas.

Lyda Conley wiped the beads of sweat from her forehead with the sleeve of her dress. It was a warm, humid late June day. She carefully laid the hammer into the box of her late father’s tools and stepped back next to her sisters, Lena and Ida. The Conley Sisters viewed their handiwork—an 8’ by 6’ cabin constructed mere feet away from their parent’s gravesites in their Wyandot tribe’s burial land, Huron Indian Cemetery.

A hundred feet away behind the “TRESPASS AT YOUR OWN PERIL” sign hanging from chain-locked iron cemetery gates, a small crowd gathered along the downtown street in the heart of the rapidly expanding business district of young Kansas City, Kansas. A crowd of people clapped and cheered their support of the Conley Sisters and their defense of a prized, downtown park. Other scowled at the sisters; seeing their illegal occupation of this piece of prime real estate in the heart of the city as standing in the way of the city’s growth and prosperity.

The game was on.

Fort Conley was built.


Fort Conley

The occupation of Huron Indian Cemetery, in opposition to a 1906 United States’ Congressional Bill authorizing the Secretary of the Interior to remove the bodies of the Wyandot tribal dead to nearby Quindaro Cemetery in order to sell the land, had begun.

Buried in the appropriation bill, actually buried in the middle of some treaty business with the Sac and Fox Tribe of Kansas for fee-simple patents, payment appropriation for a school, and land payments, is the authorization to sell Huron Place Cemetery from under the rightful ownership of the Wyandot Tribe.

On that June day, the Conley Sisters, behind the intellectual leadership of the youngest sister, Lyda, and the spiritual leadership of Lena, began a lifelong battle which would ultimately save their tribal burial ground from the destructive forces of economic development.


Lyda Conley

The battle that started in the streets of downtown Kansas City, Kansas, would take many detours. From Washington, D.C. when Congress passed the 1906 bill authorizing the sale of the cemetery, to the downtown cemetery occupation by the Conley Sisters. The fight would move to the courts, starting with the United States Circuit Court of Kansas in Topeka, Kansas and eventually, it would land with an appeal at the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court—where Lyda became the first woman of Native American heritage to argue a case before the court.

What made the Conleys take up arms and occupy their tribal burial ground?

“In this cemetery are buried one-hundred of our ancestors…why should we not be proud of our ancestry and protect their graves? We shall do it, and woe be to the man that first attempts to steal a body. We are part owners of the ground and have the right under the law to keep off trespassers, the right a man has to shoot a burglar who enters his home.”

– October 25, Kansas City Times quotation from Lyda Conley.

First and foremost, it was to protect the sacred ground on which their relatives and tribal kinsmen were buried.

They builded [sic] a hut within the grounds, close to the graves of their parents, with tiny windows overlooking the cemetery on all sides. They loaded their guns and took up their abode in that city of the dead, and the “word went out that the first man to turn a sod over one of those graves, would either turn another for the Conley sisters, or have some other person perform a like service for himself. Threats were made, a treaty of peace was attempted, the federal troops were announced as being on their way to take the Conley Fort, but the sisters remained firm. The commission remained in Kansas City for a stated period and then left — surrendered to the Indian maids. The fall passed into winter and the winter into spring, but the Conley Fort remained, with the Conley sisters on guard. They braved the biting blasts of the winter and plowed their way through the snow and over the mounds of their forefathers, to the tiny fort from which they were determined to defend, against the federal government, what was more to them than life and all that it could give them.

-Kansas Magazine, July 1909.

According to Lena, the reason for their act of civil disobedience was triggered by a dream she had when the cemetery was threatened. “My father’s spirit came to me in a dream and was unhappy and I knew what that meant. The dead want this holy place defended and it will be.”


By Peter Greenberg (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


#QR1863 Tweet Reenactment of Quantrill’s Raid

Wednesday August 21, 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the sacking and burning of Lawrence, Kansas, one of  the most brutal American upon American acts of violence in the history of our great nation. To commemorate the day, residents in Lawrence are going to use the power of social media to create a minute-by-minute reenactment of Quantrill’s Raid via Twitter.


Here’s a bit from the promo material:

The community Twitter project has participants adopting the personas of those involved in the raid and tweeting as though the events were happening in real time. Folks can follow along on Twitter through the hashtag #QR1863 or through a Twitter feed on the 1863Lawrence.com website: http://www.1863lawrence.com/twitter/qr1863-live-reenactment/.

Such a cool idea. I believe I will be glued to this hashtag on Wednesday.

What happened in Lawrence and why?

Lawrence was a bastion of free-state ideology attacked by the pro-slave Missouri militia, called Bushwhackers, under the leadership of William C. Quantrill. The Missourians claimed the attack was in retaliation for previously perpetrated atrocities carried out by the Jim Lane’s Kansas Red Legs. The Red Legs allegedly collapsed a building killing the female prisoners they held there and these women were the sisters of Bushwhackers “Bloody” Bill Anderson and Cole Younger.

When Quantrill’s men finished the unholy sunrise raid upon Lawrence, around 200 people lay massacred and the town destroyed.  This Border War between Missourians and Kansans on the western frontier of the Civil War became an extreme case of an “an eye for an eye” philosophy gone horribly wrong.

An immediate response to the Lawrence raid was enacted by the Union Army General Thomas Ewing and his Order No. 11, which cleared out all residents of Jackson, Cass, Bates, and parts of Vernon counties in northwest Missouri. Without their livelihoods, their homes, land, and inheritance, thousands upon thousand of Missourians were left to their own means in a land completely destabilized from the conflict. Many turned to violence.

If the Lawrence raid was kerosene poured into the powder keg, Order No. 11 was the match dropped into it. And did it ever explode.

Homes were burned to the ground, money stolen, people kidnapped and killed, atrocities occurred from every corner of the region and from both side of the conflict. It was ugly. The wounds and hate ran deep. Even years after the Civil War, these evil deeds in the Border War for “Bloody” Kansas are still not forgotten.

But, how did we get here? How did the neighbor states of Kansas and Missouri end up in a Border War?

With The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, Congress attempted to solve the problem that The Missouri Compromise of 1820 and The Great Compromise of 1851 could not. The problem? They were trying to find a solution to the growing political problem of slavery and what to do about the free/slave status of new states admitted to the Union.

On the issue of admittance into the Union as a slave or free state, The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 included Popular Sovereignty. It meant the free/slave status of Kansas would be decided by the vote of the settlers. Sounds pretty mild mannered and academic, right? It was a disaster.

Pro-slavery folks from Missouri flooded across the border, most only to vote pro-slavery and then head back home. Free Staters from the East, many associated with the Abolitionist’s New England Emigrant Aid Society, came in hordes to the Kansas territory. Water and oil that did not mix well, to say the least.

Truth be told, very few of these folks on either side were upstanding citizens, think John Brown, Quantrill, “Bloody” Bill Anderson, and Beecher Bibles (yes, Sharp’s rifles shipped in boxes of Bibles). When these factors converged on the wild, western boundary of this young nation, trouble began to brew between Kansas and Missouri, between free state and slave state, and the Border War for “Bloody” Kansas began.

Soon, a fight would start on one side of the border, followed by a retaliation on the opposite side. Someone would steal a horse here, then a horse would be stolen there. Back and forth, ever-escalating. Groups of local bands of irregular militias, guerrillas, organized with the blessing of the Confederate and Union armies, formed and the real trouble began. Trouble that continued to escalate to the point of the massacre in Lawrence 150 years ago.

I am very interested in this event and in the entire complexity and violence of the Border War. In fact, my middle grade historical fiction book, THE YOUNGER DAYS, is set on a secluded southwest Missouri farm where a former member of Quantrill’s Bushwhackers and his wife have escaped their past deeds and built a new life…or so they think.

If you are also interested in the Border War and Civil War history, I highly suggest attending the #QR1863 Twitter event on Wednesday, August 21, 2013. If you like that, then perhaps you may like to give my book a shot.


The tension in post Civil War Missouri builds to a boiling point between 11-year old Boy Smyth and his mild mannered, devout father over the father’s embarrassing lack of support for Boy’s Border War heroes, the outlaw Cole Younger and the notorious Border War phantom William “The Butcher” Bryant.

The family farm is visited by Cole Younger and his injured brother, Jim, of the infamous James-Younger gang, on the run after a train robbery in Iowa.  Much to his surprise, Boy discovers the Younger brothers are childhood friends of his Ma and Pa. Cole has come to their farm searching for the aid of Boy’s mother to nurse Jim’s gunshot wound.  As the Youngers rest and heal, Boy learns about his family’s past and begins to understands why Pa is the way he is.

After the Youngers leave for their Texas hideout, a new band of visitors arrive at the farm intent on violent revenge.  Everything the family built becomes threatened by the strangers, forcing Pa to make the decision to unleash a long hidden identity in order to save his family.

 THE YOUNGER DAYS page at MuseItUp Publishing.