Historic Fort Reno

BlueSTEM AgriLearning Center is a collaborative effort between Grazinglands Research Laboratory andHistoric Fort Reno, Inc.

Historic Fort Reno, Inc. is a a nonprofit organization which is dedicated to preservation and use of the historical and cultural resources of Fort Reno. Its mission is to secure funding for restoration of historic structures, Visitor Center operations and activities, educate the public through historical interpretation, and establish those partnerships necessary for the long-term stability of the organization.

All of the proceeds from the museum admissions and events go towards restoring the historic buildings at Fort Reno. One of the buildings that was recently restored was the Commanding Officer’s Quarters which serves as the headquarters for the BlueSTEM AgriLearning Center. This building was first built in 1876 then it was remodeled in 1936 by the WPA. Most recently, the exterior of the building was refurbished in 2012 by Historic Fort Reno, Inc. and then in 2014 received a federal grant to restore the interior.

Formerly the Commanding Officer's Quarters at Fort Reno. It now serves as the headquarters for the BlueSTEM AgriLearning Center.

Formerly the Commanding Officer’s Quarters at Fort Reno. It now serves as the headquarters for the BlueSTEM AgriLearning Center.

To learn about upcoming events, go to the Historic Fort Reno Website.

Historic Fort Reno

Fort Reno began as a military camp in 1874 in the Indian Wars Era. It was established at the insistence of Agent John Miles at the Darlington Indian Agency, to pacify and protect the Cheyenne’s & Arapahos there. Troops from the 10th Cavalry (Buffalo Soldiers) were dispatched from Fort Sill, but, because of other Indian unrest, were detained at the nearby Wichita Agency at present day Anadarko. The military “Camp Near the Cheyenne Agency” for Darlington was then set up for 19 months by soldiers from the 5th Infantry and 6th Cavalry from Forts Dodge and Leavenworth under Lt. Col. Thomas Neil.

Fort Reno has a long and diverse history from its inception during the Indian Wars to its service during the Oklahoma Land Run.  During WW2 Fort Reno was used at a Remounting station and a German Prisoners of War Camp. Read about our diverse history in our history section.

Today Fort Reno is managed by the Historic Fort Reno, Inc., is a non profit organization which is dedicated to preservation and use of the historical and cultural resources of Fort Reno. Its mission is to secure funding for restoration of historic structures, Visitor Center operations and activities, educate the public through historical interpretation, and establish those partnerships necessary for the long-term stability of the organization.

Fort Reno is open to the public Monday to Sunday 10am – 4pm for tours.

History of Fort Reno

Early History of Fort Reno:
Fort Reno began as a military camp in 1874 in the Indian Wars Era. It was established at the insistence of Agent John Miles at the Darlington Indian Agency, to pacify and protect the Cheyenne’s & Arapahos there. Troops from the 10th Cavalry (Buffalo Soldiers) were dispatched from Fort Sill, but, because of other Indian unrest, were detained at the nearby Wichita Agency at present day Anadarko. The military “Camp Near the Cheyenne Agency” for Darlington was then set up for 19 months by soldiers from the 5th Infantry and 6th Cavalry from Forts Dodge and Leavenworth under Lt. Col. Thomas Neil.

In 1875, the commanding officer was authorized to select a site, on the other (south) side of the N.Canadian River, and build corrals and a wagon yard, dig wells, and set up a sawmill for the military post. According to the “Post Returns” (monthly reports) the permanent location was named “Fort Reno” in February 1876 by General Phil Sheridan, in honor of his dear friend Major General Jesse L. Reno, a Virginian, who was killed in the Civil War in 1863 at the Battle of South Mountain in Maryland.

The cavalry and infantry stationed at Fort Reno played an important role in the transition of the area from Indian Territory status to Oklahoma statehood in 1907. United States Cavalry units, including the Buffalo Soldiers (Black soldiers of the 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalry, and the 24th and 25th Infantry), and the Cheyenne & Arapaho Indian Scouts, along with the U.S. Marshal Service, maintained the peace on the central plains until the turn of the century.

The Cavalry and Cheyenne Police later operated the “beef issue” which entailed issuing the Tribes live Longhorn cattle to chase and shoot like buffalo. The Longhorns had been herded up the Chisholm Trail, a part of the also famous 1867 Texas or Abilene Trail, which divided south of the South Canadian River, a leg (or variant) of the trail going northwest to the Fort Sill – Arkansas City wagon road, then through Fort Reno lands. The famous trail continued north of Fort Reno where the issue pens were located, then across the North Canadian River and through the Darlington/Cheyenne & Arapaho Agency, on north over Concho Hill/Caddo Springs (present day Cheyenne & Arapaho headquarters), and north to join up with the main trail at the Cimarron River (called the Red Fork of the Arkansas) and the Red Fork Ranch supply and remount station (present town of Dover).

Fort Reno troops were prominent in the “Indian Wars” era of the 1870s, as related below in the historical “Cheyenne and Arapaho ………” section.

The Fort Reno troops helped locate and made several evictions of the “Boomers” from the Unassigned Lands of Indian Territory for ten years prior to the opening for settlement by the 1889 land run. The Fort Reno soldiers also assisted with the land runs of 1892 and 1894. In 1892 some Fort Reno troopers were dispatched to the Choctaw capitol of Tuskahoma to help quell a political dispute among the “Five Civilized Tribes”. In 1898 Fort Reno troops distinguished themselves in the Spanish-American War in Cuba. In 1900, Fort Reno troops were sent to Henrietta where they helped quell the “Creek Rebellion” by capturing Crazy Snake and 67 of his followers. In 1906, as a result of the Brownsville, Texas incident, wherein Black troopers from Fort Brown allegedly had a nighttime shootout with civilians, an entire battalion of the Black 25th Infantry was sent to Fort Reno and discharged.

General Phil Sheridan and Scout Ben Clark

In July 1885, General Sheridan (called Little Phil) crossed the Cimarron River in Indian Territory enroute to the Cheyenne Agency. President Cleveland had ordered reinforcements to Fort Reno along with Generals Sheridan and Miles to meet with Agent Dyer and the Cheyenne leader Stone Calf. General Sheridan concluded that Agent Dyer was not aggressive enough in his efforts to disarm, dismount and put Indians onto farms near Darlington.

General Sheridan recommended to President Cleveland that all leases be terminated in Indian Territory and that unauthorized persons be removed from Indian land and that the military personnel replace the civilians at the Cheyenne and Arapaho Agency. Sheridan spent time at Fort Reno during the early years, and a log cabin structure known as ‘Sheridan’s Headquarters’ or Billet is now located on the Canadian County Historical Museum grounds in El Reno.

General Sheridan organized a Turkey Hunt that five Generals attended, led by his favorite scout, Ben Clark, longtime resident of Fort Reno, buried in the Post Cemetery.

To many Indian Wars historians, cavalry scout Ben Clark is the most notable burial in the post cemetery. Clark (1842-1914) traveled or was dispatched to lead groups throughout the Great Plains to several forts. In the Civil War he was with the 6th Kansas Cavalry. In 1868 he was assigned to Lt. Col. George Custer’s 7th Cavalry at Camp Supply (Fort Supply in present NW Oklahoma) as Chief of Scouts, and led the 7th Cav south to the Washita River where they attacked the winter camp of Cheyenne “Peace Chief” Black Kettle in the controversial “Battle of the Washita” on November 27. Clark was said to have defied Custer twice Re: complaining that troops & Osage scouts were shooting at women & children; and advocated an exit plan when the campaign was threatened by warriors from other camps.

Clark came to Fort Reno from Fort Supply in January of 1878 as “Post Interpreter”, to the Cheyennes, at $100 a month. He had married into the Cheyenne tribe. He, his third wife Moka (Mo-kaaay) and five of their eleven children are in the post cemetery.

In 1888, Clark welcomed and hosted famous New York artist Frederic Remington who produced several drawings and paintings inspired by his 3 months at Fort Reno. Clark was also called “Chief of Scouts” and led officers and other dignitaries on hunting trips. The Clarks lived in a log house, then moved into the remodeled one-room 1878 school/chapel (Bldg.10, to be restored). In 1908 Clark was placed in temporary charge of the post during the transition from a garrisioned fort to a Quartermaster Remount Station. Clark wrote over 400 pages of “Ethnography and Philology of the Cheyenne”, mostly dictionary, which is at the Autry National Center museum in Los Angeles, CA.

Land Runs

The first land run in Oklahoma opened the Unassigned Lands for settlement. The Fort Reno soldiers who previously had extracted David Payne and the Boomers, were assigned to keep order along the outer boundaries prior to the appropriate signal of cannons and carbines on Saturday, April 22, 1889. The greater Oklahoma City metropolitan area – Guthrie from the north to Norman from the South to Shawnee from the east and El Reno from the west, were all established following the land run of 1889.

The second Land Run involving Fort Reno soldiers was the opening of part of the Cheyenne & Arapaho reservation on April 19, 1892. Prior to the land run, each member of the Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribe received an individual allotment of land, mainly along the rivers and streams. The lands considered excess were opened for settlement.

Darlington Agency

President Grant’s Peace Policy marked a profound change in Indian-white relations after the Battle of the Washita in 1868. Brinton Darlington, a Quaker through his membership in the Society of Friends, was appointed agent of the Upper Arkansas Agency. Darlington arrived at Camp Supply on July 6, 1869 and began looking for an appropriate location to establish the agency complex. Brinton Darlington’s strong convictions in the scriptures of his faith caused him to adhere to the principles of the Peace Policy. He refused to accept a military escort into the interior of Indian Territory.

Through negotiations with the military and the Cheyennes, it was agreed that the new agency would be located on the north side of the North Canadian River. In May 1870, the agency was located within the newly established Cheyenne and Arapaho reservation created through Executive Order by President Grant. The agency was located near an adequate timber and spring water supply across the river, north and to the east of present day Fort Reno.

Work at the agency was challenging for Darlington as he was responsible for issuing the Treaty guaranteed annuities of goods and regular food rations. Many of the Indian camps preferred living near the buffalo range near the western border of present day Oklahoma. Thus, the number of Cheyennes and Arapahos living near the agency was small during the Darlington’s three years as Agent.

The ultimate goal of the Peace Policy was to educate and Christianize the Indians, and to get them to farm and raise cattle. The school established for the children at the Cheyenne-Arapaho agency by Brinton Darlington was part of the United States Indian policy. Many Cheyenne and Arapaho children in the 1870’s began formal education at the agency.

Darlington spent close to three years as the Agent for the Cheyenne and Arapaho people. He died on May 1, 1872 and the reports of his funeral indicate that large numbers of Cheyennes and Arapahos openly mourned as they passed his open coffin while paying their last respects. During the funeral a Cheyenne Chief spoke about the loss of this great man to the assembled group.

The agent succeeding Brinton Darlington was John D. Miles who had served as the agent for the Kickapoos.

Buffalo Soldiers 

In 1866 Congress approved legislation creating all-Black Regiments of the Army, however, with white officers.. The two Cavalry units were the 9th and 10th and the two infantry units were the 24th and 25th. The 10th Cavalry in the west earned the name “Buffalo Soldiers” from Native Americans, as a term of respect, describing not only their tenacity, but their hair, said to resemble the color and texture of the hair between the horns of the buffalo. Eventually all of the Black regiments were called Buffalo Soldiers.

The 9th and 10th Cavalry were stationed at Fort Reno beginning in 1874 through the 1880’s. The Infantry units were present by the early 1900’s, then transferred to New Mexico and Arizona Territories.

The Buffalo Soldiers have the reputation for effective and consistent fighting against the lawless whites, Mexicans and Indians. The Ninth and Tenth United States Cavalry were designated as the black regiments. Companies from both units passed through Fort Reno. The Fort Reno Post Cemetery is the resting place for one soldier of the 10th Cavalry soldier, six soldiers of the 9th Cavalry and seven “Walk-A-Heaps” from the 25th Infantry. Along with the white troops stationed at Fort Reno, the Buffalo Soldiers played an important role in several ejections of David Payne’s Boomers from Indian Territory and preventing cattle drovers, outlaws, and “Sooners” from entering the territory prior to the land rush, as shown in historic photographs.

German Prisoners of War and U.S Army Guards 

During World War II, an eastern portion, 94 acres, of the Fort Reno lands served as an internment workcamp for German Prisoners of War. Mostly from Gen. Rommel’s Afrikakorp, captured in North Africa, over 1,300 Germans were brought to Fort Reno by rail. While imprisoned here, the German POW’s were hired as laborers for local farmers and in 1944 built the Chapel located to the north of the Parade Grounds. The west side of the historic military cemetery is where 70 German and Italian Prisoners of War are interred. Most of these men died at other POW camps in Oklahoma and Texas. Only one Fort Reno German POW died while imprisoned at the Fort Reno internment camp.

There are 62 German and 8 Italian Prisoners of War interred at the POW Cemetery added to the west end of the Post Cemetery. A number of Germans and Italians have made special trips to view the resting place of their relatives or friends. Every year a special memorial wreath appears on Veterans’ Day in remembrance of those prisoners buried at the Fort Reno cemetery. A German-American Heritage Day (Volkstrauertag) is held at Fort Reno in November.

The most famous German buried at the Fort Reno POW Cemetery is Johannes Kunze of the Tonkawa Camp. He was beaten to death by fellow POW’s who accused him of being a traitor. Those charged with his murder were sent to stand trial at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where they were found guilty, executed by hanging, and buried. The death of Johannes Kunze is the subject of a novel by Vince Greene, titled “Extreme Justice”.

Prison Camp guards were the U.S. Army’s 435th Military Police Escort Guard Company.

An excellent book on this subject is “Behind Barbed Wire: WWII POW Camps in Oklahoma” by New Plains Review, University of Central Oklahoma, with 99 illustrations and photos, and stories from several POW camps.

Remount Station

A 21st Century person might ask, “Why were horses and mules used in 20th Century Wars?” Please read on. In 1908, Fort Reno became one of three Army Quartermaster Remount Stations for the military, a role which it served through 1947. Specialized horse breeding and training of pack mules became the central focus of activity at Fort Reno. The horses and mules were transported by rail from Fort Reno and shipped to other parts of the world during World War I and World War II. The military also made some horses available to the local farmers for breeding purposes. Social activities at Fort Reno included polo matches, horse races, horse shows and auctions, and local community activities at the Officers’ Club, polo grounds, and racetrack, which no longer exist.

Fort Reno’s purpose as a remount station was to raise horses and mules for any branch of the military. Reports indicate that Fort Reno was the regional headquarters, having approximately 14,000 horses and mules at various times throughout the Remount Station years. The principal Remount units were the 252nd and the 253rd Quartermaster Remount Squadrons, plus a unit of “Fort Reno Remount Cowboys”, real cowboys, who broke and trained the horses and mules.

The Fort Reno Remount Troops often accompanied the pack mules and horses to other parts of the world. The horses and mules were shipped to the South Pacific, Italy, Greece, China, Burma and India for use, primarily in mountainous areas, by the Allied forces. These animals were a very important element of our nation’s war effort, used for crucial supply lines and transportation, in terrain where, as one Veteran said, “There wasn’t a square foot of level ground!”

Shortly after World War II, in 1948, the United States Army’s Quartermaster Remount Depot at Fort Reno was closed, although animals were shipped out until 1952. The Fort has since been the site of the 6,740 acre U.S. Dept.of Agriculture’s Grazinglands Research Laboratory, which hosts the Visitors Center/Museum, operated by the non-profit Historic Fort Reno, Inc