South Dakota Flashback: The 1990 SDSU Hobo Day Riots
The date was October 20, 1990. What started as a homecoming celebration at South Dakota State University in Brookings, South Dakota, quickly turned into hundreds of rioters vandalizing and starting fires, marking what many South Dakotans know as the Hobo Day Riots.
Along with a crackdown of alcohol in the dorms and spurred by a Jackrabbit football loss to Sioux Falls' Augustana (31-0) a usually quiet city and campus began to unwind.
What is South Dakota State University's Hobo Days?
The Hobo Day homecoming tradition has been a memorable part of South Dakota State University for over a century. The roots of the celebration were planed in 1907 with the "Nightshirt Parade" when students dressed in sheets and PJs to encourage a football win.
The University didn't like the idea of women in their jammies outside in public, it was the nineteen aughts after all. So, in 1912 students took a page from other colleges and developed Hobo Day.
The first official Hobo Day at SDSU was on November 2, 1912. To celebrate the men grew beards and the women put on costumes, then they all met the opposing football team at the train station.
Over the years other traditions developed, including the parade and the Bummobile.
The 1990 South Dakota State University Hobo Day Riots
But, the 1990 Hobo Day celebration will stick in the minds of South Dakotans and Jackrabbit fans, and will be labeled as "unforgettable."
Mobs of rioters shut down 9th Avenue, starting fires fueled by anything that would burn including mattresses, picnic tables, and even a dog house. Flames that reached the height of two stories danced into the night sky.
As an estimated 1,000 students rioted, Brookings' police and police from surrounding communities tried to calm the events so firefighters could extinguish the flames.
The Associated Press reported at the time that around $30,000 damage was done at SDSU, and off-campus damage was around $10,000.
The Hobo Day riots may have left a black smudge on the reputation of a school that is normally calm, but many say that the rioters weren't even students of SDSU and that the event wasn't as bad as the news media made it look.
The Associated Press at the time quoted South Dakota Governor George Mickelson saying, ″I’m very disappointed that what I know of now to be a small group of perpetrators and a large group of onlookers did as much damage."