“Impromptu Fiesta” or “Havoc in Hollister”: A Seventy-Year Retrospective

Sarah L. Hoiland

Hollister: a symbolically loaded three-syllable noun. For today’s youth, Hollister is a clothing company best known for its surfer-inspired apparel. For residents of Hollister, California, and the surrounding areas, a palpable sense of place characterized by breathtaking bucolic fields nestled in the foothills and hometown pride among the generations of farmers and ranchers. Mention The Wild One (1953) or the film’s star, Marlon Brando, to baby boomers and a nostalgic remembrance or utterance of “those were the days” is likely to follow as images of leather jackets, blue jeans, and white t-shirts form a collective memory of the post-war period in the United States. For many motorcyclists, especially motorcycle scholars, the mere utterance of Hollister provokes eye-rolling, audible groans, and a mixture of ennui and, for some, simmering anger because the 1947 Hollister Gypsy Tour that took place over the Fourth of July weekend marks a turning point in motorcycle history. It was certainly not the first Gypsy Tour nor was it the first time Hollister hosted motorcycle races, but in just two short articles, San Francisco Chronicle journalist C.J. Doughty and photographer Barney Peterson laid the foundation for 70 years of associating motorcyclists with “havoc.” For the thousands of law-abiding motorcyclists, this association has resulted in stereotypes and discriminatory treatment in the ensuing decades and an inescapable association of motorcycling with unlawful behavior.

Tracy Gear Jammers in Hollister, California, 1947. [Fig. 1 detail]

The Examiner, owned by William Randolph Hearst, and The Chronicle were engaged in fierce competition for San Francisco Bay readership during the first half of the twentieth century. Doughty’s written account and Peterson’s photographs were sensationalized and engage in many of the yellow journalism practices prevalent at the turn of the twentieth century, and although these brief accounts were criticized early and often in local editorials by eyewitnesses, motorcycle magazines, and by Hunter S. Thompson in Hell’s Angels (1966/1999), Peterson’s staged photograph[1], reprinted in Life with Doughty’s copy, was imprinted in American mass media. Peterson’s iconic image of a drunken biker resting atop a motorcycle with beer bottles strewn around the bike immortalized the “havoc” described in Doughty’s account. The effects of the national publicity for Hollister and for motorcyclists are an indelible aspect of American motorcycle history. Commenting on the Life publication, John Dorrance states,

The effects were immediate and damning. With a readership of nearly five million, Life was the largest weekly in America, and the image of the drunken biker fit with the already dark impressions many suburbanites held of those strange individuals who put two wheels under their rumps and rode—often in militaristic formation like the Nazis the nation had so recently defeated—around the countryside  on loud, sinister machines (32).

Anthropologist and motorcycle enthusiast Daniel Wolf saw the effect of the national publicity as “the stigmatization of an image: the motorcyclist as deviant,” “the genesis of the ‘outlaw biker,'” (5) and “the birth of an image” (7). The dichotomy between “deviant,” “outlaw” motorcyclists and “clean,” “law-abiding” motorcyclists is visceral and palpable seventy years later and efforts to distinguish “us” from “them” have divided motorcyclists since 1947.


As I wrote the story of Hollister as historical background in a book I am writing about a women’s motorcycle club, I noticed several factual inconsistencies in the plethora of secondary sources recounting the 1947 Gypsy Tour. Although Peterson and Doughty have been criticized, the secondary accounts reporting conflicting numbers of motorcyclists and California Highway Patrol (CHP) and how long the “riot” lasted. I began to systematically examine the multitude of secondary accounts to try to find the facts.[2] A fleeting reference to the “Satan’s Daughters” along with other clubs like the Booze Fighters, Galloping Gooses, 13 Rebels, Satan’s Sinners, and the Winos (Garson 52 and Harris 15) led me to believe there were women’s clubs in attendance that had not been accounted for and since my focus is the origin of women’s motorcycle clubs, I was curious as to whether there were other women’s riding clubs than the Motor Maids who were there to compete in the races. A dear friend and colleague suggested I go to Hollister and examine primary source documents and with the support of two City University of New York (CUNY) faculty research grants, I was able to work with San Benito Historical Society archivist, Sheila Prader, in the archives in April of 2016 and again in December of 2017.

While I didn’t find any archival record of the Satan’s Daughters, I did find photographs of the Tracy Gear Jammers (see Figures 1–4). The slightly yellowed 4′ x 2′ copies of the Evening Freelance and Hollister Advance and dozens of manila folders labeled “Hollister 1947” from metal file cabinets included dozens of photographs and letters to former director of San Benito Historical Society as well as articles clipped from regional and national newspapers related to the 1947 Hollister Gypsy Tour. Sheila, a self-trained historian with twenty years of experience and a lifetime of living in the valley, masterfully located primary source documents for me to review. In working side-by-side with Sheila, I was also able to feel the palpable hometown pride and to also hear the local voices through a variety of letters, photographs, editorials, and other primary source documents that are not part of the dominant Hollister narrative.

The local newspaper coverage tells a different story and one that has been largely overlooked in the plethora of academic and non-academic articles, books, and films about the 1947 Hollister Gypsy Tour. One exception is historian Randy McBee (2015), who provides a close reading of some of the local newspapers and analyzes how class, specifically the “gypsy subculture” and the use of “transient” and the tenuous relationship with wage labor (19).

This article will provide a close comparative reading of the local newspaper coverage of Hollister using a daily publication, The Evening Freelance, and a weekly publication, the Hollister Advance, and compare them to Doughty’s two San Francisco Chronicle articles (see Table 1) and argue that there is a peculiar insider/outsider tension in the accounts of Hollister that includes both the locals’ preoccupation with the “S.F. Newsmen” and a mistrust of outsiders and outsiders’ corresponding motivation to “scoop” the world on this cattle town riot and retreat back to the city. The insider/rural account provides additional context of the events that incorporate Hollister as a place with a history of motorcycling and Hollister residents as people who welcomed the motorcyclists and participated in the revelry that ensued over the Fourth of July weekend in 1947 but it also quickly falls prey to the language used by the S.F. Newsmen. Both accounts delegitimize the presence of female riders by objectifying them through language and an absence of space.

Theorizing Gender in the Hollister Narratives

McGee’s attention to the “‘gypsying’ subculture” (19) is well situated but focuses primarily on a precarious relationship to work at the expense of gender. McGee states, “Women, too, were generally marginal to if not entirely absent from these spaces and certainly more conspicuous than consequential” (26). The depiction of women at Hollister was not conspicuous, although nearly absent from the press coverage, but it was certainly consequential. There are scant references in the immediate coverage of Hollister (July 5th – July 11th, 1947). Doughty references women twice in the article “Havoc in Hollister.” First, he states

Riders, both men and women, steered their machines into bars, crashing fixtures and bottles and mirrors. They defied all traffic regulations racing full speed through the streets and intersections. Hundreds loosed bottle barrages. Bartenders halted the sale of beer, believing the group could not afford whiskey. Riotous activities continued. The bars closed two hours earlier than permitted by law (“Havoc in Hollister”).

In this first description with the subtitle “Thursday,” striking because Doughty, by his own account, did not arrive in Hollister until late Friday evening, women are notably riders and are equal actors. Doughty goes on to say that

The force of 40 highway patrol officers…enforced a lull in the terrorism. Armed with tear gas guns, the officers herded the cyclists into a block on San Benito street, between Fifth and Sixth streets, parked a dance band on a truck and ordered the musicians to play. Hundreds of individuals who invaded the town yesterday for the motorcycle show, about 10 per cent of them women halted their riotous ‘play’ to dance (“Havoc in Hollister”).

No eyewitness interviews or quotes are provided in either account. One day later, the Evening Freelance publishes a strikingly similar summary (although Doughty reported 40 CHP and the local paper reported 30 CHP) of the end of the riot that involved “herding” the cyclists into a one-block area. How did the officers respond to the “rioting” crowd? Music. The Freelance reported the following scenario:

The officers ordered them to disburse and as a distraction, loaded an orchestra on a truck and had it play for the milling mob. As the riders momentarily forgot their grievances, several of them began dancing and soon much of the crowd was shuffling through broken glass that littered the street—debris from beer bottles thrown by the riders earlier. As the cyclists stopped their ‘play’ to dance, officers remained, standing nearly shoulder to shoulder, keeping an eye on the dancers—nearly every cyclist had brought his ‘moll’ along (“‘Battle of Hollister’ Ends”).

Webster’s Dictionary defines a moll as a gangster’s girlfriend or a prostitute. Attributing deviance in women with deviant sexualities is not new. The performative aspects of straddling a horse, straddling a bicycle, and straddling a motorcycle must mean these same women are sexually deviant. Alexis Ganser (2009) examines road narratives and writes,

Women taking to the road are often deemed erratic misfits, which is reflected in expressions like ‘streetwalker’, ‘wayward girl’, ‘tramp’, and ‘loose’ (or ‘fast’) woman, all of which connect female bodies, public space, mobility, and via, their negative connotations, identify the ‘public woman’ as improper, sexually available, disturbing the gendered organization of the public sphere, and as thus out of place (quoting Soyka 2002: 21).

Although Doughty’s distaste for the motorcyclists in Hollister, especially the women, is palpable in his writing, an interview conducted with Doughty in 1995 solidifies his position. When he was asked to reflect on the 1947 Gypsy Tour in Hollister, Doughty said,

We were scooping the world on this goddamn thing. When you’ve got a bunch of wild drunks, you feel menaced. We were damn careful. It was a mess. They were frightening the hell out of the town, tearing up lawns. People were scared; there’s no exaggeration on that. And then there were women on bikes. They were crummy broads (Foley 1995).

Crummy broads” [emphasis added] is a loaded phrase. Using an adjective that denotes inferiority and worthlessness and a noun that is offensive and can also be attributed to promiscuity, Doughty’s misogyny is clear.

In 1947, Charles John Doughty was a 33-year-old reporter with experience working at a variety of newspapers in the Bay Area. A San Francisco native who lived in Shanghai, China from age 6 to age 20, he was a paratrooper in World War II and also served in the Korean War. He married in 1962 and had three children with his wife, a Viennese Holocaust survivor, and after 25 years of working for Hearst Newspapers, he took a position of associate editor at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 1967. Doughty was described by his colleagues at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, where he served as senior editor from 1967-1979 before he retired described him as “a character straight out of the classic 1920s play ‘The Front Page’ — hard-working, hard-drinking, crusty, competitive, eternally curious and ready to take risks” (Pyrne, 2006). Doughty’s obituary includes former City Council member Jean Godden’s recollection of a woman running for judge coming into Doughty’s office for an endorsement meeting and Doughty telling her that she has “nice legs;” he was remembered as “a manager who encouraged and promoted women but wasn’t always politically correct” (Pyrne, 2006). Decades before #metoo, the Jack Doughty’s of the world were writing history and while Doughty’s interest and that of the Hearst Empire might have been a post-war battle on the home front, the way Doughty depicts women at Hollister which becomes an indelible part of motorcycle history.

The photographs below, published for the first time in The International Journal of Motorcycle Studies, tell a different story. The Tracy Gear Jammers appear to be an all-female riding club and they seem to select which males, although the preference seems to be sailors, to be in their photographs. They do not appear to be “gypsies” and although I was unable to uncover any specific information about these women at any of the other neighboring historical societies (work in progress), I argue these women and many others who remain unnamed and do not appear in photographs are nomads. Braidotti (1994) provides a theoretical framework from which to examine alternative kinds of feminist embodiment and writes, “It is the subversion of set conventions that defines the nomadic state, not the literal act of traveling” (5). Although the fixity of motorcycle clubs and the primacy of geographic location becomes a focal point for motorcyclists after Hollister, “…the nomad is only passing through; s/he makes those necessarily situated connections that can help her/him to survive, but s/he never takes on fully the limits of one national, fixed identity. The nomad has no passport—or has too many of them” (Braidotti, 1994, 33).

Tracy Gear Jammers in Hollister, California, 1947. [Figures 1–4]

The processes of gendering motorcycling involved removing women from motorcyclist and biker identities and relegating them to a “moll,” or “crummy broad” with far less disruptive potential occurs in many spaces after 1947. Sociologist and motorcyclist Barbara Joans (2001) notes the parallel process that occurs in the wider consumer market when she writes,

All through the twenties, thirties, and forties, the Harley-Davidson Company had encouraged women…they were depicted as smiling, competent, resourceful and in love with their bikes…In the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), women rode spectacularly well. The Motor Company highlighted all these women in its promotional campaigns. Then came the Change. By 1948 all the Harley ads showed women in the rear. The Harley campaigns featured big, unsmiling, tough-looking men on their bikes. They rode solo or with their women perched upon small, high, ass-viewing seats on the rear bumper, the princess seat…The new Harley rider was a biker and he was tough (65).

The reification of a male-centered biker through Harley-Davidson advertisements and The Wild One (1953), supports subaltern narrative of sexually deviant women who are dependent on males for motorcycling exploits. Britches, the female biker in The Wild One, appears drunk and sexually available to Johnnie, but he brushes her aside and focuses his attention on Kathie, the epitome of the American sweetheart. Kathie is blonde, wears dresses, lives with her family, works at the local café, and is soft-spoken. Britches, is dark-haired, wears dark jeans, drinks, and travels with Johnnie’s motorcycle club. The Wild One (1953) is closer to the local newspaper accounts than many of the secondary accounts and picks up on the small-invasion in Frank Rooney’s “Cyclist’s Raid”, which was published in Harper’s in 1951, played on the victimization of the small town woman by the outsider/motorcyclist. In “Cyclist’s Raid,” the daughter of a local storekeeper is killed by a motorcyclist who drove his motorcycle into the hotel, and in The Wild One, the townspeople mistakenly think Marlon Brando’s character Johnnie rapes the sheriff’s daughter, Kathie, and form a mob to bring Johnnie to justice. In a time of seismic cultural shifts and renewed awareness of the abuses of a patriarchal society including “manspeaking” and sexual harassment and assault #metoo, these early depictions of women as either salacious participants in the mayhem or as small-town victims set up a particularly masculine subculture of motorcycling that accelerated in the 1960s most visibly in the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club under the leadership of Sonny Barger. Hunter S. Thompson calls The Wild One an “inspired piece of film journalism” and goes on to say,

Instead of institutionalizing common knowledge, in the style of Time, it told a story that was only the beginning to happen and which was inevitably influenced by the film. It gave the outlaws a lasting, romance-glazed image of themselves, a coherent reflection that only a very few had been able to find in a mirror, and it quickly became the bike rider’s answer to The Sun Also Rises” (63).

The exaggerated account becomes the origin story of motorcycle clubs in the United States and influenced not only the non-motorcycling American public but also motorcyclists who were beginning to craft their identity as drifters, misfits, and deviants. In addition to the visible and audible object (the motorcycle), motorcyclists also distinguish themselves with their style (jeans, boots, white t-shirt, leather jacket) and argot and the style in The Wild One influenced a generation of teenagers and young adults in the 1950s to construct a largely spurious image of the biker to vilify or embrace.

The importance of Hollister is often described as the birth of the outlaw motorcycle club[3], but the word outlaw is not used to describe the motorcyclists in any of the immediate press. Doughty’s two short articles tap into a primal human emotion—fear—and latches onto what Zinn calls “a climate of fear” (419) in the United States propelled by a growing fear of communism and Truman’s 1947 Executive Order 9835 which allowed the government to search out “any infiltration of disloyal persons” (420), revolutions in Turkey and China, a civil war in Greece, and 3 million workers on strike in the first half of 1946. More than the “birth of the outlaw” or the “birth of the outlaw motorcycle club,” Doughty and Peterson’s story dichotomized the motorcycling community into “us” and “them” while creating a blanket, male, deviant group identity that some motorcyclists (them) would proudly tout while others, (us) would profoundly reject and distance ourselves from in many ways. Female riders would continue to operate in nomadic territories—neither being part of the “us” nor the “them.”

Local Coverage Depicts “Carousing Celebrants” and an “Impromptu Fiesta”

The coverage in three articles published in the local paper, Evening Freelance, prior to the beginning of the 1947 Gypsy Tour in Hollister paints a portrait of Hollister as a capable host with small town warmth and pride. On July 2nd, 1947 the Evening Freelance proclaims, “Several thousand motorcyclists from California, Arizona, Nevada and Oregon” are expected to arrive for an event that is “considered the outstanding event of the year for motorcycle enthusiasts” and include “such thrillers as hill climbs, track races and a field meet” (“Motorcycle Races Will Draw Riders”). The event was the Gypsy Tour, sanctioned by the American Motorcycle Association (AMA) and sponsored by the Salinas Ramblers Motorcycle Club and the Hollister Veterans’ Memorial Park Association. Hollister hosted a similar event prior to WW2 and since this was the first post-war event in California, attendance was expected to be high. The “feature of the three-day show will be the participation of the Motor Maids of America, a girls organization of more than 200 members which will arrive here Saturday for the last two days of the event” (“Motorcycle Races Will Draw Riders”). The Motor Maids of America was founded in 1940 and were known then as now for their riding technique, dedication to riding, and their style (white riding gloves and royal blue and silver grey outfits).

The warmth and hospitality of Hollister is reinforced in the following day’s paper by a two-paragraph call for sleeping space that invites “any county residents having sleeping accommodations which they will make available for contestants and others visiting Hollister during the meet are asked to telephone 4G8-M and leave their name and address” (“Sleeping Space Sought”). The prize money and types of contests are detailed in the July 3rd issue of Evening Freelance. Five hundred cyclists were expected to enter Saturday’s events and no admission would be charged for the day’s “special events” (“Three-Day Motorcycle Meet”). The insider/rural reporting prior to the events is oozing with hometown pride and paints the picture of an experienced locale for these types of races. The fact that no admission fee would be charged, and that it is advertised, for spectators suggests an openness to non-racers, particularly locals who would be reading the Evening Freelance prior to the races.

Hollister, in many ways, was a perfect town to host this type of event. The Veterans Memorial Park was one of the premier racetracks in the United States and Lavagnino Rock on Birdcreek Road provided the perfect venue for a hill climb race (as publicized in the Evening Freelance). Hollister, although still under 5,000 inhabitants, had somewhere between 17 and 33 bars.[4] The seven-member police force included Chief Earle, Lieutenant Roy McPhail, and five officers. Motorcyclists began arriving in Hollister on Thursday, July 3rd 1947 and the races began Friday, July 4th with a hill climb where “trophy holders in this feat are expected to compete” (“Motorcycle Races Will Draw Riders”) with one hundred and fifty expected contestants in the hill climb on Friday and as many as 500 motorcyclists expected to enter the races on Saturday (“Three-Day Motorcycle Meet”). This cow town was ready for a large crowd of motorcycle enthusiasts.

Friday, July 4th was the beginning of the so-called riot in Hollister. There would have been ample time for the local paper to report on it by the time the July 5th paper was printed but there was nothing in the local paper on July 5th or on July 6th. The tone in the local newspapers remains informative with undertones of excitement of what is yet to come. The ominous forecast of additional injuries does not dampen the overall positive tone of the coverage.

The Saturday, July 5th 1947 issue of the Evening Freelance has two articles about the motorcycle races. One is largely informative about the events that are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday “Hundreds of Motorcyclists Arrive” and “Visiting Cyclists Hurt in Accidents” list those who have been hospitalized during the first 1½ days with minor injuries. This list (Harold Munson, Clifford Olinger, Margaret Manning, Eugene Bonillas, Norma Harmon, J.W. Corder, Eugene Corder, and Victor Mevio Harold Munson, Clifford Olinger, Margaret Manning, Eugene Bonillas, Norma Harmon, J.W. Corder, Eugene Corder, and Victor Mevio) shows another interesting and overlooked aspect of Hollister—the names of two women and at least one Hispanic surname (Bonillas) suggesting a diversity (at least among the wounded) that is missing in mainstream accounts of Hollister. The article continues with the following detailed account:

More seriously injured was Merton Krantzman of Tulare, with compound fractures of both bones of the right leg. Krantzman was sitting on a San Benito street curb when he was struck by a cyclist who swerved to avoid a collision with another rider, spinning in the middle of the street. Ted Boyd of Oakland, was in the hospital with a fractured collarbone and a possible fractured skull. His condition was described by a local physician as ‘possibly serious.’ Reported to have a foot severed while stunt riding was Frank McGovern of Chico (“Visiting Cyclists Hurt in Accidents”).

Although this detailed recording of injuries seems fairly innocuous (most injuries were caused by reckless riding), the article ends with a foreboding prediction by hospital authorities “set their emergency room in readiness and expected the accident toll to mount hourly.”

The Monday, July 7th issue of the Evening Freelance included three articles related to the Gypsy Tour, but only one was about the motorcyclists and spectators. The other two articles focused on the attention Hollister was getting by “Two S.F. Newsmen” and other national news subsidiaries. In all three articles ‘battle’ and ‘invasion’ are used in the titles with single quotation marks gesturing at Doughty’s titles. This suggests a mockery of the war language to describe the events that occurred. The local coverage focuses more on the “transients,” the “screwballs” that are not registered with the American Motorcycle Association (AMA), “hearty celebrants as ‘hoodlums’ and ‘rowdies'” or as one physician called them “constitutional psychopaths” (“‘Battle of Hollister’ Ends as Wild, Celebrating Motorcyclists Leave City”). The same article states that two blocks on main street were used “as a combination race-track, fiesta area and beer bottle target range” and “the celebrants started carousing after a competitive hill climb Friday…and the impromptu fiesta gradually gained momentum.” For an agricultural town with a large Hispanic population, both permanent and migrant, the choice of “fiesta” is telling. Perhaps the mixing of local Latino men and women with visiting whites was part of the perception of the “riot” by the outsider S.F. Newsmen.

The police reported that by late Friday night the riders were “virtually out of control” but police did not start making arrests until “after a day and one-half of motorcycle racing through the streets of Hollister” (Thursday-Friday) at which time “indignant riders…called the arrests ‘persecution’ and sent a delegation to the police station to demand more lenient treatment” (“‘Battle of Hollister’ Ends as Wild, Celebrating Motorcyclists Leave City”). Lieutenant Roy McPhail called the California Highway Patrol (CHP) late Friday afternoon (July 4th) and 30 CHP arrived “shortly before dusk 30 officers, armed with tear gas…moved into San Benito street to answer the call” and after imposing “informal martial law,” “scores of arrests were made” and special court sessions were held on Friday and Saturday (“‘Battle of Hollister’ Ends as Wild, Celebrating Motorcyclists Leave City”).

The local coverage is critical about the insolvency of some of the “celebrants.” The Evening Freelance says, “Hospital authorities reported that none of the cyclists was financially responsible and described the attitude of most of the injured as ‘high handed.’ One rider, when asked to pay for an inexpensive medicine given him, reportedly asked nurses, ‘What kind of a hospital is this?” (“‘Battle of Hollister’ Ends as Wild, Celebrating Motorcyclists Leave City”). This rider is questioning a health care system that requires citizens to pay for emergency care and is an example of “high handed” behavior according to the Evening Freelance. This brings to mind the tacit reason for Hollister’s initial embrace of the bikers. There were no admission fees for Gypsy Tour spectators and seemingly very limited hotel space, so the bulk of the $50,000 worth of business conducted that weekend (Dorrance 34) came from the sale of alcohol. This explains the town’s seeming readiness to accept an “impromptu fiesta” on one hand but not the “high handed” behavior of the injured.

The rhetoric switches and is inconsistent with previous accounts leading up to Day Three veering towards the tropes familiar to us today. The Evening Freelance has the infamous story of the jailbreak, which was featured in The Wild One. According to the article,

Threats of bodily injury drifted indirectly to police officers and one such vow, ‘to bust open your jail if our pals aren’t turned loose,’ was realized shortly after 10 p.m. Saturday when companions of three locked up riders applied a crow-bar to the door of the jail behind the City Hall and freed their friends. Three cyclists who had collapsed in a drunken stupor and were unable to walk, remained in the jail (“‘Battle of Hollister’ Ends as Wild, Celebrating Motorcyclists Leave City”).

The dramatic storied jailbreak that inspired so much of the ensuing popular perception of biker culture at large, resulted in no one actually leaving the jail.

The other two stories on July 7th focused on the attention Hollister was receiving by “Two S.F. Newsmen. San Francisco Chronicle staff writer C.J. Doughty, Jr. and photographer Barney Peterson jetted to the Hollister airport on Friday, July 4th “just before dusk on Friday after the Chronicle had chartered a speedy plane to bring the pair from San Francisco’s Mills Field” and left Sunday, July 6th “shortly after noon” (“Two S.F. Newsman”). According to the Evening Freelance, “By-line stories by Doughty appeared in the Chronicle yesterday morning and again this morning, causing local residents to stage a ‘run’ on the papers at newsstands here. Far earlier than usual, local newsstands were completely sold out of the Chronicle, and Hollister citizens were ‘lending’ their sought-after copies to friends and neighbors” (“Two S.F. Newsman”).[5] The excited tone continues in another article published in the Evening Freelance on July 7th which describes “Telephones in the homes of Evening Freelance Editorial workers kept up an almost continuous ‘brring’ Saturday evening and yesterday, and an ordinarily peaceful Sunday virtually was turned into a ‘working day'” that included calls from the Associated Press, the United Press and the International News Service, the San Francisco Examiner, and the Oakland Tribune (“Newspapers Phone”). When someone from Col. McCormick’s Tribune in Chicago called, “one local newspaperman…hung up the receiver at the end of the [fifteen minute] conversation and fled to Gilroy to obtain at least temporary respite from the jangling phone bells” (“Newspapers Phone”). It is interesting to note that “two S.F. newsman” were flown to cover “the Battle of Hollister” is as newsworthy, in terms of print columns, for the local reporters and editors as the biking events and ensuing carousing.

Two S.F. Newsman Find “Havoc in Hollister”

C.J. Doughty’s two articles and Barney Peterson’s two photographs that were published in the Chronicle and later picked up by the Associated Press and published in Life shaped the Hollister origin story and helped to form the public perception of motorcyclists as lawbreakers who could “invade” and “terrorize” small towns across America with “riotous activities,” “havoc,” and “pandemonium” that could only be suppressed with “martial law” and a heavy law enforcement presence. In an interview conducted nearly fifty years later, Doughty says he only went into one bar, saw no fights or violence, and did not visit the nearby racetrack (Foley 1995). Doughty’s exaggerated reporting, which was picked up by national media, must be scrutinized and compared side-by-side with the nine articles written by local journalists during the Fourth of July weekend in 1947, which will force us to create a new origin story at Hollister that takes into account the local perspectives, beginning with the newspaper coverage in the two local papers as delineated in the last section.

Doughty’s first of two articles about Hollister, published Sunday, July 6th 1947, states “informal martial law was imposed” to “curb the riotous activities of an estimated 4,000 motorcyclists who have terrorized the city for two days” (“Havoc in Hollister”). Although it seems probable that there were 4,000 motorcyclists and spectators, certainly 4,000 motorcyclists were not “terrorizing” the downtown area of Hollister. Exaggeration and distortion is part of the “scene-setting” described in Cohen’s analysis of the creation of outsider stereotypes in the cultural zeitgeist discussing the Mods and Rockers in Britain in the 1960s (27, 31). Cohen describes a process also evident in the reportage on the 1947 Gypsy Tour characterized as rhetoric of alterity (otherness) and fear. Although Hollister predates the Mods and Rockers by over a decade, the prevalence of this type of language in Doughty’s account is noteworthy, particularly in the post-war context of California.

What was the response to this so-called riot? Doughty reports “the formal request” for help as being sent at 3:30 on Saturday, July 5th (“Havoc in Hollister”), but the local paper reported CHP arriving Friday evening. This discrepancy—whether CHP was called and arrived Friday evening or Saturday afternoon—is important. Did these “riotous activities” last for nearly 40 hours or were they contained the same day they began? This exaggeration was noted by Thompson (1966/1999) but has not been asserted since. It seems reasonable to rely on the local coverage over Doughty’s who arrived Friday evening at dusk (after the races began). In contrast, local reporters, in addition to living in and being familiar with the community and the police chief and officers, had been publishing articles since Wednesday, July 2nd and watched as the Gypsy Tour unfolded.

According to Doughty, the “riot” ended when a band started playing music (see block quote on p. 6). This hardly seems like an uncontrollable riot and the CHP response of having a band to distract the revelers hardly seems like a typical response to a riot. The insider/local coverage calls the group a “milling mob” and “riders who momentarily forgot their grievances” and “cyclists who stopped their ‘play’ to dance” where the outsider/city coverage uses language such as “terrorism,” “invaded,” and “halted their riotous play.” The sense of fear and anarchy that pervades Doughty’s reportage does not match some of the quoted interviewees in his very next article published on Monday, July 7th. He notes that City Councilmember Bert Kirk said, “Luckily there appears to be no serious damage. These trick riders did more damage to themselves than to the town” (“The Forty Hours”). One young partier said, “We’re just having a convention” (“The Forty Hours”). Perhaps poorly prepared police were to blame for the brief period of destruction in the town. Chief Earle called it “the worst 40 hours in Hollister’s history,” (“The Forty Hours”). The local paper reported that he resigned as police chief after 31 years of service on July 8th, 1947 but very little information was given other than Chief Earle’s resignation was immediately accepted by the city council and was appointed to the “newly-created post of city revenue collector” (“Earle Resigns”).

Most damning of Doughty’s account is the immediate future of bikers in Hollister. Doughty was a big city reporter flown to Hollister to report on a story, and he did this using the following words in his two short articles: “havoc,” “ruckus,” “riotous activities,” “outburst of terrorism,” “lull in the terrorism,” “riotous ‘play,'” “taking over the town,” “virtually out of control,” “defied all traffic regulations,” “defied the officers,” “riotous activities” “pandemonium” (“Havoc in Hollister” and “The Forty Hours”). Doughty included some statements with his articles from witnesses and participants, but it contrasts sharply from the local coverage. Doughty’s account, which Police Commissioner Charles Kreiger’s statement, “This isn’t going to happen here again. You can quote me on that” (“Havoc in Hollister”), it would seem that Hollister would never find itself in this vulnerable predicament again. However, just three months later in October 1947, Hollister again hosted 3,000 motorcyclists and 4,000 spectators for motorcycle races at the Veterans Memorial Park.

The attempt to create distance between the “thousands of innocent, clean-cut, respectable, law-abiding young men and women” from “a small percentage” who were “aided by a much larger group of non-motorcycling hell-raisers and mercenary-minded barkeepers” appeared in Life magazine on July 28th 1947 and was reprinted in the Hollister Evening Freelance (“Life Magazine Prints Readers’ Letters”). Biker historian William Dulaney posits this letter to the editor could be the origin of the term one-percenter (2005)[6] but historian Randy McBee suggests it came from a county sheriff’s report after the Riverside rally in 1948 (23).

Larry Ketzel, captain of the Monterey County Sheriff’s Squad and member of the Salinas Ramblers Motorcycle Club (a sponsor of both the 1947 Gypsy Tour and the 1948 Hollister races) told the press that motorcycling should not be condemned for the acts of a few and said the 4,000 spectators at the October 1947 races in Hollister were “final proof that even motorcyclists can be gentleman and that members of the Ramblers said they had made it clear to the beer-drinking, hell-raising riders, who marked the Gypsy Tour with force and violence that they were not wanted” (“2,000 Motorcyclists Stage Peaceful ‘Invasion'”). In what seems like an attempt to reduce noise and perhaps literally silence or at least quiet the cyclists, 100 citations were given for faulty mufflers, but “the element that turned Hollister into near-shambles” was not around (ibid.). Hollister continued to be a welcoming site for bikers in northern California and hosted several hundred motorcyclists and 2,400 spectators during the Fourth of July 1948 weekend. While the local papers referenced the “‘Battle of Hollister'” as “last year’s debacle,” they proudly state that only nine arrests for drunkenness and disturbing the peace were made and 28 traffic citations were issued (“Hundreds of Motorcyclists Return”). The article ends, rather smugly, with the following: “But while Hollister was experiencing relative peace and quiet—the citrus-belt city of Riverdale, in Southern California, got a taste of what Hollister experienced last summer” (“Hundreds of Motorcyclists Return”). The press surrounding Riverdale amplified the framework set into place by Doughty: small towns across America are at risk of being invaded by dirty, deviant, and dangerous men on motorcycles.


My foray into archival research ended up leading me down a historical path with some unintended surprises. Although I hoped to find information about Satan’s Daughters, instead I found dozens of photographs of the Tracy Gear Jammers in Hollister, letters from spectators and participants, audio recorded interviews, and several other primary source documents. Historicizing Hollister through close reading with a keen focus on gendered language and juxtaposing the local coverage next to the city and then national coverage provides a more nuanced story of not only the “outlaws” but also the beginning of a decades-long erasure of female motorcyclists and bikers that parallels other historical processes to remove women from public spaces and positions of power and authority and relegate them to the “pee pad.”

Figures 1–4

Courtesy, San Benito County Historical Society, and special thanks to archivist Sheila Prader.

Tracy Gear Jammers in Hollister, California, 1947. [Fig.1]

Tracy Gear Jammers in Hollister, California, 1947. [Fig.2]

Tracy Gear Jammers in Hollister, California, 1947. [Fig.3]

Tracy Gear Jammers in Hollister, California, 1947. [Fig.4]

Table 1: Summary of Newspaper Coverage in Hollister and San Francisco
Evening Freelance (Daily) Hollister Advance (Weekly) San Francisco Chronicle
July 2nd, 1947 “Sleeping Space Sought”

“Three-Day Motorcycle Meet Will Begin Tomorrow With Hill Climb”

July 3rd, 1947 “Sleeping Space Sought”

“Three-Day Motorcycle Meet Will Begin Tomorrow With Hill Climb”

July 4th, 1947
July 5th, 1947 “Hundreds of Motorcyclists Arrive”

“Visiting Cyclists Hurt in Accidents”

July 6th, 1947 “Havoc in Hollister: Motorcyclists Take Over Town; Many Injured” (front page)
July 7th, 1947 “Two S.F. Newsmen Flown Here to Cover ‘Battle'”

“‘Battle of Hollister’ Ends as Wild Celebrating Motorcyclists Leave City”

“Newspapers Phone To Get Facts on Hollister ‘Invasion'”

“The Forty Hours that Shook Hollister: Charge of the Motorcycle Brigade Ends” (front page) / “More on Hollister’s Bad Time: 2000 ‘Gypsycles’ Chug Out of Town and the Natives Sigh, ‘Never Again'” (second heading on p. 3—same article)

+ 2 Peterson photographs

July 8th, 1947 “Earle Resigns As Chief of Police After 31 Years”
July 11th, 1947 “‘Battle of Hollister’ Ends as Wild, Celebrating Motorcyclists Leave City” (p. 6)

Works Cited

“2,000 Motorcyclists Stage Peaceful ‘Invasion’ Of Hollister For Races.” Evening Freelance [Hollister, CA], 20 Oct. 1947.

“‘Battle of Hollister’ Ends as Wild, Celebrating Motorcyclists Leave City.” Hollister Advance [Hollister, CA], 11 Jul. 1947.

Braidotti, Rosi. “Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory.” Columbia University Press, 1994.

Dorrance, John. “Forty Hours in Hollister,” Cycle, August 1987, 87.

“Earle Resigns As Chief of Police After 31 Years.” Evening Free Lance [Hollister, CA], 8 Jul. 1947.

Garson, P. and the editors of Easyriders. “Born to Be Wild: A History of the American Biker and Bikes 1947-2002.” New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003.

Doughty, C.J. Jr. “Havoc in Hollister: Motorcyclists Take Over Town; Many Injured.” San Francisco Chronicle, 6 Jul. 1947 p. 1.

— “The Forty Hours that Shook Hollister: Charge of the Motorcycle Brigade Ends.” San Francisco Chronicle, 7 Jul. 1947, p. 1.

Dulaney, William L. “A brief history of ‘outlaw’ motorcycle clubs.” International Journal of Motorcycle Studies, Nov. 2005.

Foley, J. “The Day Biker Gangs ‘Terrorized’ Hollister.” San Jose Mercury News, 29 Apr. 1995.

Garson, Paul. “Born to be wild: A history of the American biker and bikes 1947-2002.” Simon and Shuster, 2003.

Harris, Maz. “Bikers: Birth of a modern day outlaw.” Faber and Faber, 1985.

“Hundreds of Motorcyclists Return to Hollister; Holiday Weekend Peaceful.” Evening Freelance [Hollister, CA], 6 Jul. 1948.

“Life Magazine Prints Readers’ Letters Protesting Local Photo of Motorcyclist.” Hollister Evening Freelance [Hollister, CA], 12 Oct. 1947.

McBee, Randy D. “Born to be Wild: The Rise of the American Motorcyclist.” The University of North Carolina Press, 2015.

McBee, Randy. “‘Here’s hoping the ‘hound’ and his friends had a good time’: The Hollister Gypsy Tour of 1947 and the rise of the ‘outlaw’ motorcyclist.” International Journal of Motorcycle Studies, Sp. 2015.

“Motorcycle Races Will Draw Riders From Four States.” Evening Freelance [Hollister, CA], 2 Jul. 1947.

“Newspapers Phone To Get Facts on Hollister ‘Invasion.'” Evening Freelance [Hollister, CA], 7 Jul. 1947.

Osgerby, Bill. “Biker: Truth and Myth: How the Original Cowboy of the Road Became the Easy Rider of the Silver Screen.” The Lyons Press, 2005.

Pryne, E. “Jack Doughty, ex-editor with knack for news” The Seattle Times. 3 Feb. 2006.

Reynolds, Tom. “Wild Ride: How Outlaw Motorcycle Myth Conquered America.” TV Books, 2000.

“Sleeping Space Sought.” Evening Freelance [Hollister, CA], 3 Jul. 1947.

Sucher, Harry V. “Harley-Davidson: The Milwaukee Marvel.” G.T. Foulis & Company, 1995/1981.

Thompson, Hunter S. “Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga.” The Modern Library Edition, 1999/1966.

“Two S.F. Newsmen Flown Here to Cover ‘Battle.'” Evening Freelance [Hollister, CA], 7 Jul.1947.

Veno, Arthur. “The Brotherhoods: Inside the Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs.” Allen & Unwin 2003/2002.

Veno, Arthur, ed. “The Mammoth Book of Bikers.” Running Press, 2007.

“Visiting Cyclists Hurt in Accidents.” Evening Freelance [Hollister, CA], 5 Jul. 1947.

Yates, Brock. “Outlaw Machine: Harley-Davidson and the Search for the American Soul.” Broadway Books, 2000/1999.


[1] See this link for the “iconic” photograph which has been reprinted in so many publications: http://www.sfchronicle.com/thetake/article/These-biker-photos-defined-the-boozy-bloody-6865973.php

[2] Sucher (1981/1995), Harris (1985), Yates (1989), Wolf (1991), Reynolds (2000), Veno (2002/2003), Garson (2003), Osgerby (2005), Dulaney (2005), Veno (2007).

[3] Wolf (5); Veno attributes the “birth of the bikie” to Hollister (27); Reynolds (57).

[4] Reynolds notes that Hollister was “a big motorcycle town in the 1940s and had twenty-seven bars, twenty-one gas stations, and only six policeman” (45). Letters from Hollister locals (see George Rogers and Delores King who estimated 17 bars and 30-33 respectively) provide another estimate.

[5] According to Dulaney, “All in all, the Chronicle did little to stir up citizens of the region; this, at a time when local labor strikes were resulting in deaths, simply wasn’t news” (2005).

[6] Lin Kuchler, then-secretary of the American Motorcycle Association has been credited with the one-percenter phrase but no records exist of Kuchler making any such statement.

Acknowledgements: I am deeply indebted to my CUNY FFPP writing group for suggesting that I dig in the archives and for reading several drafts of this article over the past two years, to PSC-CUNY for awarding me two research grants for this project, and to IJMS for continuing to deepen my engagement in motorcycle studies.

Sarah L. Hoiland, City University of New York—Hostos Community College, Bronx, NY, United States

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One Comment

  1. I´m a dane writing about the “riot in 1947” and I have a question, was there any traffic lights in Hollister in 1947?

    Henrik Andersen

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