Western Trips

Western Trips

Monday, December 17, 2012

Western Army / Fort Reno

fort reno oklahoma
1887 Fort Reno Guard House
Western Trips visits Fort Reno Oklahoma, the site of a unique western army fort that operated from the time of the Indian Wars through World War Two.

 Oklahoma historic sites are plentiful. The state is home to many very interesting historic sites that span from the times of the Indian Wars and Indian Territory days through the mid 1900's. Fort Reno is certainly one of these sites.

A Perfect Addition to Your Western Trip

If your western road trip takes you to the Oklahoma City area you'll want to add this stop to your vacation road trip planner. Fort Reno is located just a few miles north of Interstate 40 and only about 26 miles west of Oklahoma City and just outside El Reno Oklahoma.

Fort Reno is also near another historic event which was the Battle of the Washita. This was the battle or massacre of Southern Cheyennes and their peace seeking Chief Black Kettle and his wife in 1868. The conflict involved eleven companies of the 7th Cavalry under Lt. Col. George A. Custer along with additional army troops. Today, the site of the massacre is the Black Kettle National Grassland, about 100 miles west of Fort Reno. Also at this site is the Black Kettle Museum in Cheyenne Oklahoma. The Black Kettle Museum chronicles the Southern Cheyenne and early settlement of the area and is an excellent companion trip to your visit of Fort Reno.

fort reno buildings
1891 Officers Quarters
An Historic Western Army Fort

Fort Reno was established in 1874 but came to it's present location in 1876. The fort was named by General Philip Sheridan in honor of General Jesse L. Reno, a career army officer, who died in the Battle of South Mountain in 1862. This was the same year as the Battle of the Little Bighorn further north in Montana and at a time that the present state of Oklahoma was designated as the Indian Territory. Fort Reno is also located where a branch of the famous Chisholm Cattle Trail once ran.

One of the fascinating aspects of Fort Reno is the time in history that the fort was operational. Fort Reno was an  outpost for the "buffalo soldiers" in the late 1800's who played a big role in the Indian Wars in both the plains and the southwest...played a role in Oklahoma's entrance into statehood in 1907...was an military outposte during World Wars One and Two and was the site of a German POW camp during the Second World War. Virtually all troops at the fort left to serve during the Spanish American War. That's quite a lot of history for one former western army fort.

fort reno cavalry
Ft Reno 1934 Cavalry Barracks
Fort Reno was abandoned in 1908 just one year after Oklahoma gained statehood but operated as an army remount depot all the way until 1949. A remount depot supplies the army with mules and horses. The remount depot also bred horses for the cavalry. Troopers at this remount station trained cavalry horses and mules for military use. After 1948 all animal breeding became the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture. In addition to being on the National Register of Historic Places, Fort Reno is also home to the U.S. Department of Agrriculture's Grazinglands Research Laboratory.

Also, see our Western Trips photo articles on Fort Union New Mexico where wagon ruts from the old Santa Fe Trail days can still be viewed and a story about historic Fort Concho Texas and it's Indian fighter commander Ranald Mackenzie.

indian territory map
Indian Territory Map
Operating in the Middle of Indian Territory

As many know, the Oklahoma Land Rush which opened the territory to white settlement came with a lot of complications beforehand. Troops at Fort Reno made several evictions of the "Boomers" from the Unassigned Lands of Indian Territory for ten years prior to the opening for settlement in 1889. The troops were also involved with the subsequent land runs in 1892 and 1894.

Fort Reno troops were also called on to settle disputes between the tribes already residing in Indian Territory. Much of the trouble arose from political differences between the tribes. At that time the territory was the home of the "Five Civilized Tribes" that had been forcibly relocated to Oklahoma from the southern U.S. Having all of these tribes living in a relatively small area raised challenges for all involved, the Native Americans and the western army.

Fort Reno Buildings and Grounds

Unlike many western army forts, Fort Reno was originally built with wood, brick and stone. To help construct the fort a sawmill was built. Fort Reno today includes 25 buildings of historic significance and the Post Cemetery located one mile west of the Old Quadrangle or Parade Grounds.

fort reno army fort
Fort Reno Commissary building
Interred in the Fort Reno cemetery are the remains of pioneer citizens, military personnel, victims of the Northern Cheyenne outbreak, and World War II German prisoners. The post chapel which you can visit today was built by members of Hitler's Afrika Korps. During the Second World War During World War,  94 acres of the forts lands was designated as an internment work camp for German Prisoners of War. More than 1,300 Germans were brought to Fort Reno by railroad. Guards at the POW camp were from the U.S. Army's 435th Military Police Escort Guard Company.

Again, one of the fascinating things about this Oklahoma historic site is how many tasks Fort Reno was assigned during it's decades of operation. 

fort reno oklahoma post chapel
Fort Reno Post Chapel
The fort buildings have been going through an ongoing restoration program thanks to several grants including a large one from the National Park Service.

Visiting Fort Reno

Fort Reno Oklahoma hosts events throughout the year. These include tours, reenactments, car and motorcycle cruise events, a Christmas celebration and several other gatherings. Fort Reno's Visitor Center in addition to having many excellent artifacts on exhibit helps to educate the public through historical interpretation.Some of the interesting artifacts include Frederick Remington art work after his visiting the fort. German POW letters are exhibited, images of the Cheyenne Indians, clothes of the frontier era and much more.

To reach the Fort Reno Visitor Center from Interstate 40, take exit 119. You'll see several signs that guide you north a few miles to the fort entrance.

Two good books to explore this subject further include Fort Reno and the Indian Territory Frontier by author Stan Edward Hoig and  Black Kettle: The Cheyenne Chief Who Sought Peace But Found War by author Thom Hatch.

(Photos from author's private collection)

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