Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Oklahoma History: Old Fort Reno: Not Just Another Fort - Pt 1

By Alanna Radle Rodriguez and Judge Rodriguez

After the War Between the States, the Oklahoma and Indian Territories were a true frontier. The land was ruled by the rough and tumble politics of the gun. The tribes, most of which had supported the Confederacy during the War, were found to be quite fractious. In 1874, the Darlington Agency created what was intended to be a temporary encampment to protect their agents from the Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, which were currently staging an uprising. This uprising led directly to the event known as the Red River War. After the conflict ended, the encampment had enough resources and staffing to be re-purposed as a permanent fort, which it was on July 15, 1875. It took its name from General Jesse Reno, whom had been killed during the battle of South Mountain, MD., also known as the Battle of Boonesboro Gap, during the War Between the States.

Commanding Officer's Quaters

The fort is located 3 miles west and 2 miles north of present-day El Reno, Oklahoma. The fort’s staff was originally tasked with keeping the tribes in line with the current policy of peace keeping. After a large number of the Northern Cheyenne died, a group that chiefs Dull Knife and Little Wolf led, fled the reservation and began a precarious trek back to their homeland. This is when two troops of cavalry were tasked with hunting them down and bringing them back to their reservation. There were several contests between the soldiers and Indians, which were the subject of Mari Sandoz’s classic book, Cheyenne Autumn.

Darlington Indian Agency Established 1869

In 1885, President Grover Cleveland ordered reinforcements, along with Generals Sheridan and Miles, in addition to Cheyenne leader Stone Calf to the fort. They found that the disarmament policy was not being enforced as aggressively as had been requested. General Sheridan sent the recommendation to President Cleveland that all leases be terminated, unauthorized persons be removed, and all civilian positions in the Indian Territory be replaced by military personnel.

During the early years of the fort, General Sheridan spent an extended amount of time in a log cabin now referred to as “Sheridan’s Headquarters” or “Sheridan’s Billet”.

During the 1880s, the 9 th Cavalry Buffalo soldiers and Indian Scouts from Fort Reno were tasked with locating and arresting the illegal Boomers in the area before the land runs. During this time, the troops from the fort were tasked with keeping peace along the 89th Meridian, also known as the “Indian Meridian”. This meridian was the division between the tribal lands and the unassigned lands.

Officer's Quarters, 1876 & 1936

Alongside the troops, there was a group of Indian Scouts. They were made up of the Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribesmen who were living in the area. The scouts would use their own horses, but they were allowed to draw from the commissary to feed their families, and were given a base pay. The enlistments of the scouts would last only three-six months. According to the records, the scouts would spend their free time making goods to be sold to settlers and troops. They also made sketches and drawings in ledgers, several of which are in museums and historical societies across the nation. These drawings would focus mostly on the uniforms, weapons, and horses used by the troops.

Guard House, 1887

Red Brick building on right, Commissary 1885 & 1886
Natural stone building on left, Magazine 1885

Troops of the Fifth Cavalry also monitored the opening and signaled the start of the historic Land Run of 1889, opening the Unassigned Lands for settlement, allowing for the creation of notable towns such as Oklahoma City, Edmond, Waterloo, Yukon, El Reno, and Moore. They, alongside the 3 rd Cavalry, also monitored the opening of the other land runs, which opened the Cheyenne-Arapaho Reservation in 1892 and the Cherokee Outlet in ’93. Prior to the land run in ’92, the “Indian Scouts” were each allocated lands across the reservation, mostly along streams and other waterways. The lands that had not been assigned to those families had been labeled excess and opened up for the land run.

Officer's Quarters 1891

Fort Reno Cemetery

In 1892, troops from the fort were dispatched to the Choctaw capital of Tuskahoma, in an effort to quell a political dispute between the Five Civilized Tribes. In 1898, virtually all of the fort’s cavalry, and infantry were force-marched away to serve in the Spanish-American war. After the war, the fort was lightly re-garrisoned with the 1st , 6th and 8th Cavalry until 1902. In 1908, the fort was closed as an active military garrison. However, if you think that the history of the fort ends with its role as an active garrison, you would be wrong. Come back next month, and we will finish weaving the tale of one of the most influential forts in the history of the grand state of Oklahoma.

 Born and raised in Edmond, Oklahoma, Alanna Radle Rodriguez is the great-great granddaughter of one of the first pioneers to settle in Indian Territory. Alanna loves the history of the state and relishes in volunteering at the 1889 Territorial Schoolhouse in Edmond. Her first published story, part of a collaborative novella titled Legacy Letters, came out September 2016. Alanna lives with her husband and parents in the Edmond area. She is currently working on a historical fiction series that takes place in pre-statehood Waterloo, Oklahoma.


  1. I love this post! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks for reading, Connie! Come back next month, because we aren't done with Fort Reno!

  3. When I was working on my master's degree, we read The Dull Knifes of Pine Ridge. It was fascinating to see this fort history to learn more about where the long trek home began. Fort Robinson in Nebraska tells the sad tale of how that long walk ended. A tragic episode in history. Thank you for this informative post!

    1. You're right about that, Stephanie. But just wait till you read next month's continuation of Fort Reno. Oklahoma has a connection to WWII that I never knew about and it happened at Fort Reno!

  4. Oklahoma history is almost as interesting as Texas'. :) I became interested in Oklahoma history after our son and his wife moved to Tulsa. Whenever we visited, we stopped at the first Tourist Information center across the Texas border on I35. I picked up brochures there about the history of the state and that led to my first series, Winds Across the Prairie. I'd read about his fort and have not as yet figured out how to use it in one of my stories. Thanks for the great information and the pictures about it.

    1. I'm so glad you enjoy Oklahoma history, Martha! And even more thrilled that my home state inspired your first series! How exciting! Do come back next for the follow up of Fort Reno. This fort isn't done!

  5. Great history for Oklahoma. Thank you for sharing this interesting post. I haven't visited Oklahoma.

    1. Thank you, Marilyn! You'll enjoy visiting if you do! This place is PACKED full of historical sites.

  6. I must say that I'm not very familiar with Oklahoma"s history. Thanks for sharing!