FORT RENO

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    First Fort on the Bozeman Trail

     In the spring of 1865, the U.S. Army decided to establish a permanent fort on the Powder River; deep in the heart of the Plains Indians’ last great hunting grounds.  This would be accomplished as part of a military expedition that summer intended to punish the Sioux and Cheyenne for attacks along the Platte River and in Colorado.  While the expedition failed to defeat any significant Indian forces, it did establish a post on Powder River, near the Bozeman Trail crossing.

     Construction by troops of the Sixth Michigan Volunteer Cavalry began on August 14, 1865.  Named Fort Connor after the expedition’s commander, General Patrick Connor, the fort consisted of a stockade and crude log buildings made of cottonwood cut on the river valley below the bluffs it was located on.  Later in August, two companies of the Fifth U.S. Volunteer Infantry relieved the cavalrymen, and served as the garrison until June 1866.  During this period, little military activity took place, since the garrison was too small for offensive operations, and the Indians did not see them as much of a threat.  Few improvements were made to the post, the most significant event being the renaming of the fort to Fort Reno in November 1865.

     On June 28, 1866, Colonel Henry B. Carrington and the 18th U.S. Infantry arrived at Fort Reno, relieving the volunteer units.  The original intent was to abandon the site and move the post further north on the Bozeman Trail, but orders arrived to keep it active, and build a new post to the north (this post became Fort Phil Kearny, located approximately 60 miles north of Fort Reno.)  Carrington left two companies to garrison Reno.  Before its abandonment in the fall of 1868, Reno’s garrison would vary from a high of 300 men to a low of 125 at the end.

     During the next two years, Fort Reno stood guard over its section of the Bozeman Trail, and served as a way station and forwarding supply depot for the two northern Forts, Phil Kearny and C.F. Smith.  There were numerous small skirmishes around the fort and constant threat of Indian attack, but not to the level experienced at Fort Phil Kearny.  Often boredom was the most formidable enemy, since the post sat in what seemed a dreary and inhospitable land to the young soldiers stationed there.   Some improvements in living quarters and buildings were made during 1867, but it was still not a desirable place to live.  The post cemetery had more burials from illness and accidental death than battle casualties.

     In the spring of 1868, the United States Government agreed to abandon the Bozeman Trail forts and close the trail to travel as part of the Laramie Treaty.   The forts were abandoned that summer, starting with C. F. Smith, then Phil Kearny, and finally in late August, Fort Reno.  Soon afterwards, Indians probably burned the fort buildings, and natural elements such as lighting, prairie fires and erosion took a toll over the years.  By the time General George Crook's troops visited Fort Reno in 1876, all that was left were some adobe walls and building debris.

     Today, part of the fort site is administered by the Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources Department.  There is a large stone monument and several interpretive signs marking the site.  Please call (307) 684-7629 for further information.

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