Saturday, August 19, 2017

Oklahoma History: Old Fort Reno: Not Just Another Fort - Part 2

Fort Reno, Oklahoma

By Alanna Radle Rodriguez and Judge Rodriguez

In last month’s article, we discussed the history of Fort Reno, located just outside of current day El Reno, Oklahoma. We spoke of the influence of the cavalry soldiers who lived at the fort and how Fort Reno was one of the most influential forts in the state of Oklahoma history.

Buffalo Soldiers at Fort Reno
After the Spanish-American War in 1898, the fort was lightly garrisoned with the 9th, 25th (African American), and 30th Infantry until its closure as an active military post in 1908.

That same year, the Department of the Army reactivated the fort as a remount station, providing a location for the cavalry to train new horses and mules. Under new leadership, the post was refurbished and expanded, with room for the thousands of horses and mules being trained and groomed for use during both World Wars and the Korean War.

Cavalry Barracks 1934
This turned the fort into 1 of 3 locations in the U.S. specifically designated for this role. During the time that Fort Reno was serving its role as a remount station, they housed many notable visitors, which included Amelia Earhart and Will Rogers. The principal remount units were the 252nd and 253rd Quartermaster Remount Squadrons, as well as the “Fort Reno Cowboys”, who actually broke and trained the mounts for all branches of the military. During these years, the U.S. cavalry trained in not only cavalry tactics but also in the game of polo.

Cavalry Stables
In the role of remount station, Fort Reno provided one of the most well-known “riderless horses”. Black Jack was foaled on January 19, 1947 and was named after General “Black Jack” Pershing. He was the “riderless horse”—the equine attendant for the carriage at the state funerals for Presidents John Kennedy, Herbert Hoover, Lyndon Johnson, and General Douglas Macarthur. After a distinguished twenty-nine-year military career, he passed away on February 6, 1976, and was cremated and interred at Fort Myer Virginia. He was the 2nd horse in history to have received those honors, the only other one being Comanche, the mount of Gen. George Custer, the only cavalry survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn.

The troops and their horses from the remount station often traveled to other parts of the world during the conflicts in which they served.

Chapel built by POWs, May 28, 1944
During World War II, a portion of the fort’s lands had been set aside as an internment camp for over 1300 Germans and Italians. While they were housed at this camp, they were tasked with creating the chapel on the grounds of the remount station. At the cemetery, seventy prisoners of war are buried, who, according to the fort’s museum, came from different camps. The prisoners that died at this camp were moved to other camps to be buried. A number of Germans and Italians have made special trips to the fort to pay respects to their fallen family members.

The tranquil gravel road leading to the Fort Reno Cemetery

The main Fort Reno Cemetery, the final resting place for soldiers, family members (including infants), several Indian Scouts, Unkowns, even a Chinaman

The back part of the Cemetery, sectioned off for POWs. It shares the back wall, there is a staircase that goes over, and it has its own entrance

Many of the POW headstones have the flags of their nationality

In 1948, the Army Quartermaster Remount Station was officially closed, though they sent mounts out until 1952. In 1949, fort ownership was transferred from the Department of the Army to the Department of Agriculture, which in coordination with the Oklahoma Agriculture and Machine University (later renamed Oklahoma State University), established a livestock and forage research center.

This historic fort has been manned since 1949 by the USDA and OSU faculty. However on the grounds, Historic Fort Reno Inc., maintains a presence. They tend the grounds, have numerous cavalry competitions every year, and have a chapel. The chapel is available for weddings, which helps the corporation to provide funds for the site.

Inside the chapel, a beautiful piece of workmanship by WWII POWs

As of 2015, a museum exists on the grounds, and Suttlery (or shop that sells trinkets such as belt buckles, cords, pins and such necessities for reenacting) dedicated to the US Cavalry Association. Several times a year, Fort Reno hosts the “Ghost Tours,” which allows outsiders to hear many stories of the fort and its inhabitants from the people who maintain the grounds. While the fort is open to the public most days, the guided tours should be scheduled and are quite worth it.

If you are in the area of central Oklahoma, it is well worth the time and effort to make a trip to the site of Historic Fort Reno. This fort is a rich, vibrant slice of Oklahoma history. Join us next month, and we will outline the only active military fort left in Oklahoma: Fort Sill.

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. Glad you enjoyed it! Come back and find out the interesting history of Fort Sill!

  2. Great article! Thanks for all your research!

  3. I'm really enjoying your tales of these old forts and seeing the photos.

  4. A great history lesson about Old Fort Reno. Thank you for sharing and all the pictures. It brings it to life while reading.