Hollister Riot

Hollister Riot refers to the 1947 motorcycle rally event held in Hollister, California, which gave birth to the term “one percenter”.

The events that occurred at Hollister were much overstated in many media publications, making the myth several levels grander than the facts.

Hollister Riot - Hollister California map
Hollister Riot – Hollister California map

Hollister Riot – What Unfolded At The Event

The events unfolded at the 1947 Gypsy Tour, which ran from 3 July, 1947 until 6 July, 1947. The event was sanctioned by the American Motorcyclist Association.

Hollister had hosted these types of motorcycle rallies previously and had a strong connection with the biker community, including the 1936 Gypsy Tour which was held in the town and did not raise any major concerns. This was the first rally in Hollister in several years due to World War II.

It is estimated that approximately 4000 people attended the 1947 event at Hollister. These numbers were up on previous years, possibly due to the extended World War II hiatus.

While the stories at this point vary significantly, it is safe to say that the following events happened:

  • Alcohol was consumed in vast quantities by some, resulting in drunk and disorderly behaviour.
  • Some fights occurred.
  • Motorcycles were raced in the streets of Hollister.
  • There was minor vandalism.

It all comes down to the extent to which the above events occurred which can mean the difference between a “riot”, as this event was labelled by the media, and just another everyday large scale event where 4000 people gather and consume alcohol in close proximity for 3 days.

The Hollister Police Force was said to consist of 7 men, a number which is insufficient for managing any event containing 4000 people.

Hollister Riot - American Motorcyclist Association logo
Hollister Riot – American Motorcyclist Association logo

Hollister Riot – The Aftermath

It is estimated that 50 people were arrested, mostly for minor alcohol related offences.

There were approximately 60 injuries, but only 3 which were serious.

Hollister Riot – The Photo

The most used image when discussing the Hollister Riot, by a long shot, is that of a drunken looking motorcycle rider sitting on top of a Harley Davidson motorcycle, he is surrounded by beer bottles.

Witnesses claim that the photo was staged by Barney Peterson, a San Francisco Chronicle photographer. But although the newspaper published a story about the event, they did not publish the famous photo.

The 21 July, 1947 edition of the Life magazine published Barney Peterson’s photo along with an article titled “Cyclist’s Holiday: He and Friends Terrorize Town” which described 4000 motorcycle club members causing a riot.

A 1997 interview in Cycle Guide Magazine contains the following statements by a witness, who claims to be the man standing at the rear of the photo (as seen below):

“We went uptown, my former wife and I, to see all the excitement, and we ran into these people. They were on the sidewalk and there was a photographer. They started to scrape up the bottles with their feet, you know, from one side to another, and then they took the motorcycle and picked it up and set it right in the glass. That’s not his motorcycle, I can tell you that. He was just in the vicinity, and he was pretty well loaded. There was a bar right there, Johnny’s Bar. I think he came wandering out of that bar, and they just got him to sit down there. I told my wife, ‘That’s not right; they shouldn’t be doing that. Let’s stand behind them so they won’t take the picture.’ I figured if I was behind them they wouldn’t take it. But he took a picture anyhow, this fellow did, he didn’t care. And then after that, everybody went on about their business”

Hollister Riot Drunk Biker

Hollister Riot – Motorcycle Clubs Involved

Notable clubs who attended the rally include:

Hollister Riot – Birth of the “One Percenter”

Following the events at Hollister the American Motorcyclist Association was said to make a statement which included a line similar to the following:

99% of motorcyclists are good, decent, law-abiding citizens”.

It was interpreted by many that those not covered by the above statement were the “one percent”. The term was quickly taken onboard and has been commonly used now for over half a century.

The American Motorcyclist Association have since performed investigations and determined that this comment can not be backed up by any of their records.

A paper by William L. Dulaney suggests that it may have been the letters which were written to the Life magazine in response to this article which suggested that it was only a small “percentage” of the 4000 people at the event who caused the issues, which over time may have been re-told and misinterpreted to be a statement put out by the American Motorcyclist Association.

Hollister Riot one percenter patch

Hollister Riot – Books

Book – The Original Wild Ones: Tales of the Boozefighters Motorcycle Club by Bill Hayes.

This book tells the story of the history of the Boozefighters MC, who were one of the clubs in attendance at the Hollister Riot. Statements made in the book by members who attended the rally make it clear that the situation was widely blown out of proportion by the media. Find out more on Amazon (link opens in a new tab).

Book The Original Wild Ones Tales of the Boozefighters Motorcycle Club Bill Hayes
Book The Original Wild Ones Tales of the Boozefighters Motorcycle Club Bill Hayes

Hollister Riot – Movies

Movie – The Wild One starring Marlon Brando.

The movie The Wild One is loosely based on the Hollister Riot events, in no means should it be viewed as an accurate depiction. The character played by actor Lee Marvin in the movie is based on the Boozefighter MC’s founder Wino Willie Forkner. Find out more on Amazon (link opens in a new tab).

Boozefighters MC The Wild One Marlon Brando
Boozefighters MC The Wild One Marlon Brando

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