Fort Reno was initially established to quell the unrest among the Indians in the region during 1874. Thirty-two Cheyenne and Arapaho men and one woman were arrested for their alleged role in the 1874 Uprisings and were taken as prisoners to Fort Marion, Florida. Several years later, some of the former prisoners returned to the area and served as Indian Scouts at Fort Reno as well as Camp Supply (later Fort Supply) to the northwest.
The Battle of Sand Hill in April of 1875 two miles north of the Fort, was the only military battle near the Fort. Near the Cheyenne village, the soldiers and a blacksmith were attempting to shackle prisoner Black Horse. He was being chided by the Cheyenne women, so he kicked loose from his captors and ran toward the village. The soldiers gave chase, then shot and killed him, but some of their bullets went through the lodges (teepees). The wary Cheyennes, believing they were under attack, raced to nearby sandy hills and dug up their cached weapons and occupied rifle pits they had excavated. The soldiers responded in force. A pitched battle ensued, including a repulsed cavalry charge, and the fort’s Gattling Gun was brought into the battle. The Cheyennes escaped at dark. Before it ended, one enlisted man (Clark Young, a Buffalo Soldier), one civilian, and one Indian scout died as a result of Sand Hill and are buried in the historic cemetery located 3/4 mile west of the Fort Reno Visitor Center. 19 soldiers were wounded, and six Cheyenne warriors and one woman were killed.
The most dramatic single event of the early fort was the heroic attempted escape to freedom by nearly 300 Northern Cheyennes in 1878. After the Custer Massacre in Montana in 1876, 937 Cheyennes had been rounded up and forcibly removed to the Darlington Agency by Lt. Henry Lawton, 17 troopers, scout Ben Clark, and 20 civilians. A group of those Cheyennes, led by Dull Knife, Little Wolf, and Wild Hog, fled for their northern home in September 1878. They were pursued by Fort Reno 4th Cavalry and encountered on Sept.13 near “Turkey Springs” or “Red Hills” (near present-day Freedom, OK). The resulting battle took several lives, including Pvt. Struad, Pvt. Modinger, Cpl. Lynch, and Arapaho Scout “Chalk”, who are all buried at the Post Cemetery. A blacksmith named Burton was also killed.
The Cheyennes continued their flight, punctuated by further skirmishes and many depredations through western Kansas and Nebraska, until their capture. The last and northernmost battle involving Fort Reno troopers occurred Sept. 27, 1878 at Punished Woman’s Fork (creek) in west-central Kansas. The cavalry averted an ambush, but commander Lt. Col. Lewis was mortally wounded, and was succeded by Capt. Mauck. The troops continued pursuit into Nebraska, but returned to Fort Reno in October, as the 5th Cavalry from northern forts took up the chase.
In October the Cheyennes were confined at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, but escaped the following January, and were either killed or recaptured.
This escape incident was basis for the book and movie “Cheyenne Autumn”, filmed in 1964 in Monument Valley Utah, the extreme opposite of the landscape and climate at Fort Reno.
The Indian Scouts at Fort Reno in the 1880’s were a regiment of Cheyenne and Arapahos who enlisted for three to six months at a time. The Indian Scouts accompanied the Fort Reno Cavalry units and made sure the Indian camps were located on the reservation. The Cheyenne and Arapaho men who served as Indian Scouts camped at Fort Reno with their families. This was an economic venture since they were paid a base fee and additional amounts if they used their own horses. Their families were able to obtain food supplies at the Fort’s Commissary.
The Indian Scouts spent their free time at their camp and produced works of art in ledger books. The art is one dimensional with a great amount of detail spent on the horse, man’s clothing, and enemy. Several Indian Scout books collected by Commanding Officers at Fort Reno are now in museums or part of private collections across the country.