In 1878, two years after the infamous Battle at Little Bighorn, Camp Ruhlen was founded as a frontier peacekeeping camp and the headquarters of the U.S. 7th Cavalry. Established at the foot of the 1,200-foot geological formation called Bear Butte, Camp Ruhlen’s mission was to also serve as a construction camp for the new fort being built there. Fort Meade was established that year; named for Civil War hero General George Meade. Several civilian settlements developed to the west of the fort with the purpose of parting the soldiers from their pay. The camp called Sturgis was the survivor.
The city of Sturgis was named for Camp Ruhlen’s Seventh Cavalry commander Colonel Samuel Sturgis. The fort and the town grew together into the 20th century. Sturgis developed into a business community that served the nearby fort and agricultural concerns.
The convenient and modern Bear Butte State Park surrounds the geological anomaly. Members of several Native American Indian tribes travel to Bear Butte to observe special religious ceremonies.
Sturgis hosts a number of special events each summer: Cavalry Days in June and the Black Hills Steam and Gas Threshing Bee in August. The Fort Meade Museum provides one of the most complete historical accounts of the early military and frontier era. Seven of the buildings constructed in the 1880’s are still standing on the grounds. The Fort Meade Medical Center is located on the original grounds, as well as the South Dakota Military Academy’s officer training school, and the South Dakota National Guard.
For 51 weeks out of the year, Sturgis is a typical small town on the northeastern edge of the Black Hills. But, for one outrageous week in August, hundreds of thousands of bikers descend on Sturgis—the city has become the home for one of the most famous motorcycle rallies in America.
Although other features make Sturgis an interesting place to visit, the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has certainly given the town its claim to fame.