The Sturgis Story
Sturgis, SD, is named for General Samuel D. Sturgis (1822-1889), an American military officer who served in the Mexican-American War, then the Civil War (he was Union general), and then the Indian Wars. Sturgis has less than 7,000 residents, but every August some 600,000 visitors come flocking – or more to the point, roaring – into town from across the country and around the world for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rallly, started in 1938 by the Jackpine Gypsies motorcycle club. The Rally’s founder was Clarence “Pappy” Hoel who purchased an Indian Motorcycle franchise in Sturgis in 1936 and formed the Jackpine Gypsies that same year.
Today the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally attracts its share of celebrities as well as bikers. In 2012, cast members from four of the History Channel’s most popular series – Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz from American Pickers, Rick and Corey Harrison and Chumlee Russell from Pawn Stars (the “Old Man” stayed home in Las Vegas), Danny “The Count” Koker from Counting Cars, and Rick Dale from American Restoration – met up at Sturgis for a full week of events, get-togethers, sightseeing, and non-stop motorcycle talk.
The Indian Motorcycle franchise is still located at 3rd and Lazelle Street in Sturgis. The Indian, launched in 1901, was America’s first motorcycle. It was manufactured by the Hendee Manufacturing Company at a factory in Springfield, MA, fondly called the “Wigwam.” The company’s two “Indian chiefs” were George Hendee, a bicycle racer and builder, and Carl Oscar Hedstrom, an engineer. Eventually the company was reincorporated as the Indian Motorcycle Company. Mike Wolfe, a long-time Indian enthusiast and collector, is the national spokesperson for Indian Motorcycles.
On a personal note, Ol’ Swaphos and I decided to drive up to Mt. Rushmore a number of years ago. We knew nothing about Sturgis back then and kept wondering why more and more motorcycles appeared on the road the closer we got to Mt. Rushmore. We had a major motorcycle escort by the time we finally got there! Come to find out, we’d accidentally picked the exact same week for our trip as the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and Sturgis is right on the way to Mt. Rushmore. So we met a number of bikers that year, all of whom were enjoying Mt. Rushmore just as much as we were and were just as wont to pull over to the side of the road as we were to watch the deer and other wildlife. Many fascinating conversations, to be sure. We were thankful, however, that we were us, driving our big van with its bed, fridge, and microwave, instead of them, riding double on a cycle and packing a pup tent to sleep in!