Curse May Play Role In Cemetery Combat

Sunday May 17, 1959
Kansas City Star and Times

by Jay Lastelic
The Wyandot Indian curse, reputed never to have failed will be tested again tomorrow morning before a congressional committee.

No mention of the curse will be made by a delegation going to Washington in an attempt to save the historic Huron Indian Cemetery in Kansas City Kansas, but the threat remains.

In the 116 year old burying ground of the Wyandot lies Miss Helena Conley, self-styled sorceress of the tribe. While she lived, two Presidnets members of Congress, mayors, professional persons, policemen and others had the curse placed upon them. Now her tombstone proclaims to all:

"CURSED BE THE VILLIAN THAT MOLEST THEIR GRAVES"

Since 1890 there have been periodic battles in Congress and in the courts including the U.S.Supreme Court for preservation of the 2-acre tract in downtown Kansas City, Kansas. but the odds we4re never greater against those who today would save the site from commercialization.

Led by Mayor Paul F. Mitchum and George Zane, Chief of the Wyandots in this area the protesters are fighting the sale by the Oklahoma Wyandots who pushed a bill through Congress and gained posession of the land. Armed with letters, telegrams and petitions with more than 5,000 signatures, the delegation will present legal and historical data to the House committee on interior and unsular affairs in a hearing tomorrow morning.

Was even Newell A. George sponsor of bills that would prevent the sale and make the area a national shistoric shrine victim of the curse?

Before going to Washington he made a speech in which he suggested removal of the cemetery to another spot as a possible solution to the periodic legal battle. Within the month George was in a motor car accident and as he lay critically injhured in an emergency his surgeon scolded:
"I told you to leave that cemetery alone."

Errett P. Scrivner, Georgeís predecessor in Congress from the Second Kansas district fought for the cemetery for years and knew all the legends about the curse.

Was he a victim?

The sleeper bill for the sale of the cemetery passed in his last term. It provided a campaign issue. Scrivner was dubbed a "Rip Van Winkle Congressman, Sleepy in the Teepee". He lost the election.

The deaths and affliction of many prominent persons were attributed by Miss Conley to the effectiveness of the curse.

The Reublican king maker, Sen. Preston B. Plumb, a founder of the city of Emporia Kansas introduced a resolution in 1890 to sell the property. His death a year later was described as "untimely" and attributed to "overwork which brought on an attack of apoplexy."

George Schwabe, representative in Congress from Tulsa who always worked for the sale, collapsed and died while playing solitaire.

Another Democratic congressman, Joseph Taggart, from Wyandotte County proposed the bill which passed in Senate in 1916, and was defeated in his third-term bid that year.

President Theodore Roosevelt, who signed the bill authorizing the sale, was the successful Republican candidate for President and was defeated as the Progressive party candidate.

These were the stories taht Miss Conley related to those who visited her in her worn home at 1704 Norht Third St. in a Negro district of the city.

Miss Conley said the power of the curse was transmitted to her by a woman of the tribe, known as a witch who is buried in the cemetery.

"She asked me," Miss Conley used to tell, "if I would rather have power or money. I said power."

She remembered taht it was after the death of her mother and father, an Englishman of means, that she and her sisters, Ida and Lyda, took up their vigil over the graves after learning the land was about to be sold.

On July 25, 1907 they built a 6x8 foot frame structure and placed a fence of iron spokes around it. The three sisters stood armed with their fatherís musket (actually a double barrelled shotgun). Promptly, it was named "Fort Conley."

"My fatherís spirit came to me in a dream and was unhappy and I knew what that meant," Helena said then, "The dead want this holy place defended and it will be."

For almost five years the sisters kept their vigil, defying the United States Marshal, policement or anyone who tried to interfere. Lyda, who became a lawyer, contended they were "beneficiary owners and users of an estate in the cemetery" made by the 1855 treaty that set the land aside for a burial ground.

Helena Conley was the last survivor of the family. She died September 15, 1958, at the age of 94. Often she wondered about her longevity.

"Our body has to returne to mother earth and our spirit to God who made it,"she said. "We donít know how we came here, nor why, nor where we go. I donít know why Iím left in this God-forsaken place. Itís a cursed world - a separation from God."