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 U.S. Army Gen. Samuel D. Sturgis. 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. Promoters book music acts, primarily rock and country that draw thousands to open-air venues each August during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
In Sturgis the nonprofit Sturgis Area Arts Council promotes presentations by arts professionals as well as participation by Meade County residents in arts activities. Sturgis is home to a well-equipped, 444-seat theater in its municipal recreation complex.
Another nonprofit organization, the Sturgis Center for the Arts, focuses on lessons in many art forms and is open to participants of all ages. The Center also showcases area artists at events that include an outdoor summer festival.
Museums, Libraries & Archives
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.
The county’s largest library is the Sturgis Public Library, established in 1922 and now housed in the city hall complex. It has a collection of 45,000 books as well as downloadable and other non-print resources. Sturgis Public Library offers programming that aims to foster life-long learning. Additionally, this library supplies a branch facility at Union Center.
The Sturgis Public Library offers a variety of historical documents online which can be accessed through History Pin on their website. The library also records their History at High Noon series on its YouTube channel. For more information, call 605-347-2624.
Information on the past historical documents of the government of city of Sturgis can be found in their archive center, which includes an online search feature on their website. For more information, call 605-347-4422.
Historical Photos and Documents Online
The Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress has more than 460 images related to Meade County available online. They include large collections of photographs of Fort Meade National Cemetery taken by David W. Haas as part of the Historic American Landscapes Survey as well as an extensive set of construction drawings and images of Ellsworth Air Force Base from the 1950s.
The Denver Public Library has a portrait of Lieutenant James G. Sturgis available online. Lt. Sturgis died during the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
The National Archives and Records Administration makes a number of images and digital documents related to Sturgis available online. Subjects include 1940 Census records, water pollution from the Homestake Mine in 1972 and FEMA efforts to prevent wildfires in more recent years.
Local Histories: A Black Hills Knowledge Network Collection, features historical photos and documents from the archives created in collaboration with local libraries and the Black Hills Knowledge Network. Included in this collection are the following anthologies:
The Black Hills Knowledge Network offers many resource pages that cover important topics of the Black Hills and Meade County specifically. The Sturgis Rally History From Main Street Stunts to Megacrowds resource page features historical information on the Black Hills' largest event.
To explore other Black Hills area anthologies on the Black Hills Knowledge Network, see our Digital Archives page. The Black Hills Knowledge Network, in collaboration with local libraries, has constructed an updated archive of Meade County news.
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 Sturgis, check out religion section on the Meade County Civic Life and History page.