Just west of El Reno, Oklahoma, Route 66 enthusiasts

zip along the weathered and cracked asphalt headed for the next destination. Few notice the sign for Fort Reno at the entrance to a long driveway. Fewer still make the short drive that provides access to the museum, remnants of the fort, and its very unique cemetery.

In 1874, a military encampment was established along the North Canadian River at the behest Indian Agent John Miles at the Darlington Indian Agency for the pacification and containment of Cheyenne and Arapaho camped in the area. A year latter, orders were given to select a site on the south side of the river, to dig wells, to build corrals and a sawmill, and barracks. This is the present site of Fort Reno, a site with a very fascinating history. The cemetery perched on a knoll west of the fort provides a personal touch to its long and rich history.

The fort was officially established in February 1876. General Phil Sheridan named the fort in honorarium of  Major General Jesse L. Reno who died in 1863 at the Battle of South Mountain in Maryland. In April of 1875, two miles north of the present site for the fort, soldiers rode into the Cheyenne camp and attempted to arrest Black Horse. As he ran toward the village, the soldiers opened fire. Black Horse was killed, and several villagers were wounded. The Cheyenne thought it was an attack, recovered hidden weapons, and returned fire from prepared positions. Additional soldiers from the encampment on the river, and a pitched battle ensued. The casualties includes several Indians, Clark Young, a “buffalo soldier”, a civilian, and a scout. The casualties of the Battle of Sand Hill are interred in the cemetery at the fort. The casualties from a battle in 1878 are also buried here.

In 1908, Fort Reno was designated one of three Army Quartermaster Remount Stations for the military. Specialized horse breeding and training of pack mules continued at the fort through 1947 providing animals for all branches of the service in WWI and WWII. During WWII, the fort served a secondary purpose.

On the eastern perimeter of the forts grounds, 94-acres were utilized for establishment of an internment work camp for German prisoners of war, many of which were attached to General Rommel’s Afrikakorp in North Africa. At its peak, 1,300 German and Italian prisoners were interred here. In 1944, prisoners built the chapel located on the north side of the parade grounds, and many were hired by area farmers.

On the west side of the historic cemetery are the graves of 62 German and 8 Italian prisoners, most of which had died at other POW camps in Oklahoma and Texas. Only one German POW died while imprisoned at the Fort Reno internment camp. Also buried here is Johannes Kunze of the Tonkawa Camp who was beaten to death by POW’s who accused him of being a traitor. The murderers were sent to stand trial at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, found guilty, and executed by hanging. The incident is the subject of a novel by Vince Greene, titled “Extreme Justice”. Annually German and Italian families visit the cemetery, an on Veterans Day, a memorial wreath is laid. Each November, a German-American Heritage Day (Volkstrauertag) is held at the fort.

Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America




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