Trivia question – who was the last U.S. president whose military service was in the mounted U.S. Cavalry? If you didn’t say “Teddy Roosevelt,” you’re unusual. If you said “Ronald Reagan,” you’re amazing – and you’re right. This is just one of the interesting facts I learned at the U.S. Cavalry Association Museum at Fort Reno, west of El Reno.
I’ve always had an interest in the Cavalry – my dad learned to ride a horse in the 1920s in the Cavalry at Fort Riley, Kansas. He played clarinet in the Kansas 114th Cavalry Mounted Band. His favorite horse was a half-Arabian named Bullet. Later in life he owned several Arabian horses – a result of those early experiences.
Fort Reno has an interesting equine history. Of course, the first soldiers stationed here rode horses. Their original mission was to protect the Darlington Agency during the 1874 Cheyenne uprising. Later their assignment was to keep Boomers and Sooners out of the Unassigned Lands before the Land Run of 1889. And they policed the borders and sent out the signal which started that great race.
From 1908 through 1947, the Fort specialized in horse breeding for the military and supplying horses and mules during World War I and II. Approximately 14,000 animals passed through the programs at the fort. Black Jack, the famous riderless horse who was part of the funeral processions for Presidents Hoover, Kennedy and Johnson was raised and trained at Fort Reno. The fort also served as a POW camp during the Second World War.
Following World War II, a number of fine horses – Lippizans, Thoroughbreds and Arabians – which had been captured by the Nazis but rescued by General Patton, were sent to Fort Reno for auction.
In the late ‘40s, the fort was shut down and the property transferred to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Historic Fort Reno, a non-profit organization, is dedicated to preservation and use of the remaining fort assets.
The U.S, Cavalry Association maintains a small museum in one of the fort buildings – an 1876 Officers Quarters. The organization raised $150,000 to restore the structure, the raised another $100,000 to restore one of the original fort stables.
This will come in handy for a really cool event scheduled for September 25 through 28th. Fort Reno will host the 2019 U.S. Cavalry Competition. Although the Army transitioned the Cavalry from horses to helicopters and other mechanized equipment, a number of posts maintain mounted units.
Groups from Fort Riley, Kansas, Fort Hood, Texas, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Fort Carson, Colorado, Fort Irwin, California and Fort Huachuca, Arizona, will be competing in a variety of activities. Each group chooses the period they represent; five will be outfitted (riders and horses) in clothing and equipment of the types used during the 1865 - 1890 Indian Wars. The Fort Irwin group will wear uniforms typical of troops during the 1898 Spanish-American War.
Competition begins on Wednesday, September 25, with Wheeled Horse Competition – horse-drawn military equipment driven through an obstacle course – and Combat Horsemanship Competition – equitation and horsemanship and proper handling of weapons: saber, pistol, and carbine or rifle, both mounted and dismounted.
Thursday’s event begins with Military Horsemanship – maneuvers prescribed by the official U.S. Cavalry training manuals (sort of military dressage) – Mounted Pistol Competition and the Major Howze Cross-country Team Competition.
This competition is based on a historic Cavalry operation led by Major Robert Lee Howze against a band of Pancho Villa’s men in Mexico in 1916. This event is not confined to the Parade Ground – it’s actually a several-mile course where competitors have a specific end goal and must judge the terrain and the speed and gaits of their horses to hit their attack target. The only thing that spectators will see is the return to the Parade Ground for the charge at the end.
On Friday, participants will compete in Military Field Jumping and Mounted Saber competition.
If you can only make one day, Saturday would be my choice. You’ll see mounted color guard units performing standard show routines, the Presentation of Colors, and a Pass in Review at the end.
The biggest attraction this day is the Bolté Cup Competition, named after the late Brigadier General Philip Bolté, former Chairman of the Board of the U.S. Cavalry Association. He was instrumental in establishing the National Cavalry Competition and in moving the association headquarters to Fort Reno. This event features winners from each of the earlier competitions in a test of multiple skills.
As I have learned from experience – years of going to horse shows with my daughter – events like this have flexible schedules. Events can go long or short – and there’s often lots of free time between the action.
One of the best things about this event is – it’s absolutely free. And you can come and go, depending on your interests. There will be food trucks and drinks available – or bring your own. I’m a big fan of El Reno’s iconic onion burgers, so that’s always an option. There are some bleachers but it would be a good idea to pack lawn chairs, bring sun screen and sun hats.
In addition to the competition, this is a good time to tour the U.S. Cavalry Association Museum. Be sure to take time to read the printed descriptions; there’s lots of good information there. You can also visit the Fort Reno Visitors Center where there is another museum.
For horse and history lovers, this is a special opportunity. The U.S. Cavalry competition is free of charge. During this week there will be no fee for visiting the U.S. Cavalry Association Museum. Donations are always appreciated. This is a labor of love of the many volunteers who have made the museum happen.
It’s a real treat to hear pounding hooves again on these historic grounds. Plan to attend September 25 – 28 at Fort Reno. It’s about 40 miles from Edmond, easily accessible from I-40. For more information call 405-422-6330 or go the web site, www.uscavalry.org.