Sturgis - Civic Life & History
Long before the first motorcyclists roared into town, Sturgis was a rendezvous point. Bear Butte, a mountain just east of Sturgis, is sacred to many native tribes of the Great Plains. It has inspired pilgrimages for centuries. In 1857 it was the site for a great Lakota council that sought strategies for keeping white settlers out of the region.
Those settlers arrived in a rush after Lieutenant Colonel George Custer led an 1874 expedition that found gold in the Black Hills. Violence between the Lakota and newcomers prompted the U.S. Army to establish a post near Bear Butte. The post evolved into Fort Meade and in 1878 Sturgis was founded a mile east.
The town’s name honors James Sturgis, a Cavalry officer killed with Custer at Little Bighorn in 1876. Initially the community served primarily as a goods and services center for Fort Meade soldiers. The Sturgis Commercial Club joined South Dakota’s congressional delegation in pushing successfully for the fort’s ongoing development over the years. Fort Meade remained an active military installation until 1944 and then became the site for the Veterans Administration medical center. Sturgis is home to Black Hills National Cemetery, established in 1948 for veterans and their spouses on 105 acres. Bear Butte State Park opened in 1965.
Arts & Culture
Sturgis Motorcycle Rally attendance makes possible one of the nation’s major annual music festivals. Private promoters book acts that draw thousands of bikers and other fans to open-air venues, mostly just east of town.
The rest of the year a modern theater seating 444 in the community’s recreation center hosts performances by local musicians and thespians, and touring arts performers. The nonprofit Sturgis Center for the Arts coordinates music and visual arts lessons, and showcases area artists at events that include an outdoor summer festival.
Museums, Libraries & Archives
The Sturgis Public Library is located at 1040 2nd Street in downtown Sturgis. Established in 1922, the Library housed in the city hall complex. In addition to its collection of 45,000 volumes, it offers downloadable and other non-print resources, plus programming that aims to foster life-long learning.
Located in a historic building across from Fort Meade’s parade grounds, the Old Fort Meade Museum recounts the region’s military history. It is open seven days a week in summer. The Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame, downtown, is open year round. Its displays include vintage bikes, as well as photos and artifacts documenting the Sturgis rally through the decades. The Hall of Fame honors personalities from Peter Fonda to Evel Knieval.
Eighteen churches serve people from Sturgis and surrounding communities and rural areas. In addition to its in-town churches, Sturgis has a long relationship with Fort Meade’s chaplains. In fact, chaplains helped bring about some Sturgis denominations. Church leaders come together through the Sturgis Ministerial Association. Among the Association’s projects is Church Response, making available emergency lodging, food, and medication for transients and local people in need. The motorcycle rally regularly draws religious organizations that minister to bikers. A long-standing Sturgis tradition sees several churches host popular “biker breakfasts” each morning of the rally. Breakfast profits support church programming and missions, and over pancakes and eggs bikers experience a side of Sturgis they might otherwise miss.
For data on religious denominations in Meade County, check out religion secton on the Meade County Civic Life and History page.