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.