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alumni news case that protected the Huron Place Cemetery yet again. So she couldn’t be more thrilled that the heroic efforts of the Conley sisters will be documented in a feature film produced by Ben Kingsley, the Oscar-winning star of “Gandhi” and “Schindler’s List.” Kingsley will play the role of Charles Curtis, a Kansa Indian and the only Native American vice president in U.S. history, in “Whispers Like Thunder.” “The Conley sisters gave up so much for service to our tribe,” Holly says. “They chose tradition, duty and love of tribe – which is love of family – over anything else, including commercial gain. They truly represent those values that all my tribal members aspire to and what led me to getting a legal education at KU law school. To have them recognized for their efforts and to have the opportunity for others to learn about our tribe and its history is a blessing.” ‘Trespassers, Beware’ Independent filmmaker Luis Moro co-wrote the screenplay for “Whispers Like Thunder” and hopes to begin filming later this year. Upon hearing the story of the Conley sisters from co-writer Trip Brooks, Moro immediately recognized the women’s efforts as universally inspirational. “They spent their entire lives on a worthy cause,” he says. “They were willing to fight the U.S. government and anyone else they had to so they could defend and protect everyone’s right to a sacred burial ground.” Lyda Conley earned her law degree from the Kansas City College of Law in 1902, just four years before Congress authorized the Secretary of the Interior to sell a tract of land in Kansas City, Kan., that had been given to the Wyandotte tribe as part of an 1855 treaty. Buried within the soil of that tract were Wyandotte Indians, many of whom had died on the banks of the Missouri River after being forcibly removed from Ohio and Michigan and waiting in vain for land promised them by the federal government. The legislation also authorized the removal of their bodies. A commission was formed to carry out the order, but Lyda Conley and her sister Lena had other plans. Former KU Law Professor Kim Dayton writes in her detailed account of the battle over the cemetery: “Late one night in the summer of 1906, Lyda and her sister stole into the Huron Place Cemetery and posted on each marked gravesite of their lineal ancestors a sign bearing the words ‘Trespassers, Beware.’” The women then raised a shack that they occupied, armed with double-barreled shotguns, in defense against encroachment by anyone who intended to carry out the “illegal” sale and desecration of the site.


Lyda Conley at her 1902 graduation from the Kansas City College of Law. Fierce protectors Lyda Conley went on to file a petition for injunction in the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Kansas that was quickly dismissed for lack of federal jurisdiction. Undeterred, she filed an amended complaint, and her case eventually made the U.S. Supreme Court docket in 1910. Although she had been admitted to the Missouri bar eight years earlier, Conley was unable to find an attorney who would vouch for her character and fitness to practice before the Supreme Court, Dayton writes. So she appeared pro se – the third woman, the second woman attorney and the first woman of Native American descent to appear and argue at the Supreme Court of the United States. The Court upheld the lower court’s dismissal, clearing the legal path for the cemetery’s sale. Standing in the way of that transaction: the Conley sisters and their graveside shack.

KU Law Magazine | Spring 2009  
KU Law Magazine | Spring 2009  

A magazine for alumni and friends of the University of Kansas School of Law. Story highlights include: Alumni spread legal roots in rural Ka...