"This whole thing is a motion picture. It's an epic adventure,” said Richard J. Grellner, the Oklahoma City lawyer representing the tribes in the lawsuit, filed March 20.
Fourteen years after the tribes settled in Oklahoma, a presidential order whittled 9,000 acres off their reservation to create Fort Reno. The tribes believe the land was to revert to them when the government no longer needed it for military purposes.
Fort Reno continued to serve the military for decades, keeping it out of the tribes' reach.
When the cavalry abandoned the fort in 1908, it became a "remount station,” where horses and mules were raised and trained for the military.
When the remount station closed in 1954, the government announced the property would be set aside for possible military use.
James M. Upton, the Justice Department attorney representing the government, did not reply to messages seeking comment.
In court documents, the government says the Cheyenne-Arapaho claim on the land died in 1891, when the reservation was allotted and the tribes signed an agreement ceding the remaining 400,000 acres, which then were opened to non-Indian settlement.
The tribes say they never ceded the Fort Reno land and that the government remained bound to its promise to return it to them when no longer needed for military use.
"It's our land. We never gave it up,” Flyingman said.
The lawsuit also will resolve whether the tribes were paid for the land. The government says they were — twice.
They got 2 cents an acre in 1891, then $15 million more in 1965 after filing a lawsuit under the Indian Claims Commission Act, designed to correct past injustices in land dealings with Indian tribes.
The tribes say the payment covered the rest of the old reservation, excluding the Fort Reno land.
Since 1948, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has operated a research station at Fort Reno and hosted Historic Fort Reno, a nonprofit organization that runs the old fort as a historic site. Should the tribes prevail, Flyingman said both will be invited to stay.
"There's plenty of room for them and us,” he said.