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3 on bikes
The Hawthorne collection documents local motorcycle club and more.
Motorcycle memories in the NSU Archives
Research center holds 20th century documents of interest
Leah Jackson
01/13/2017

NATCHITOCHES – The recent death of H.G. Hawthorne Sr., a former resident of Natchitoches, prompted Northwestern State University Archivist Mary Linn Wernet to take a look at the collection of memorabilia the gentleman donated to NSU’s Cammie G. Henry Research Center. Hawthorne, who lived in Natchitoches for almost 50 years, had a special interest in Harley Davidson motorcycles and helped form the Natchitoches Motorcycle Club, which he served as an officer in the 1940s. The H.G. Hawthorne Collection (1948-2004) includes boxes of correspondence, minutes from Motorcycle Club meetings, newspaper clippings and programs from motorcycle rodeos, tours and races.

 “The collection of memorabilia also includes his jacket and several photographs of his riding adventures,” Wernet said. 

In 2002, Dale Sauter, who was then NSU’s assistant archivist, penned an article in the Louisiana Archives and Manuscripts Association newsletter discussing his fascination with the Hawthorne Collection. Sauter, a motorcycle enthusiast, was delighted to discover the collection when most researchers who visit the Cammie G. Henry Research are interested in the collections of material on the founding of Natchitoches and its history, Cane River and Creole culture and the Louisiana Purchase.

“Being great subjects of interest, these histories have been, and continue to be, well documented both locally and nationally,” Sauter wrote. “Since these subjects are getting the attention they deserve and this research tends of to focus primarily on the 18th and 19 centuries, it was a bit refreshing to find something that was a change of pace and from the 20th century.”

Advantages of having the collection, he continued, were that many members of the Natchitoches Motorcycle Club were relatively young at the time of its founding and many could still be in the area and willing to discuss their experiences. He located five individuals of them.

Hawthorne was born in Alexandria in 1923 and graduated from Northwestern State in 1944 with a bachelor’s degree in business. He joined the U.S. Navy in 1945 and served for 10 years. After returning home, he worked at the Natchitoches Lumber Yard, eventually becoming part owner and later was a partner in a building business until his retirement in 1988. Hawthorne had other interests, as well, including bow hunting, any ball sport, locksmithing, scuba diving and water skiing. He was also a member and officer in the Moose Lodge.

Hawthorne lived his last years in Temple, Texas. Last year he was one of the WWII veterans selected for the Honor Flight Austin to Washington, D.C. to visit the World War II Memorial. He passed away in Temple on Dec. 19 with his family at his side, survived by Mary, his wife of 65 years, four daughters and their families. His donated remains will later be laid to rest in Natchitoches.

Hawthorne’s family requested that memorial donations be made to the Honor Flight Austin or to Watson Library’s Dunnington Preservation Account and used to preserve and stabilize the items in the H.G. Hawthorne Collection and other archival collections in the Cammie G. Henry Research Center.

Through further research, Sauter discovered that motorcycle and motorcycle culture were popular topics in academic study, with contemporary material available on the motorcycle industry. In the late 1990s, the Guggenheim Museum in New York City presented “The Art of the Motorcycle,” an exhibit that included 120 motorcycles of historical significance and remains today one of the most popular exhibitions ever presented at the museum.

“I believe it is all too easy to forget about those collections in our institutions that are small or rarely used by researchers,” Sauter wrote. “It seems it is good practice for new and old staff to periodically re-familiarize themselves with their holdings. Just like trends in historical research, the interests of archivists are continually changing and expanding. Reviewing current holdings can provide opportunities to pursue our own interests in a professional capacity, as well as promote our institution to new researchers who may not have been aware of various collections and subject areas we retain. It is always rewarding and enjoyable to work with materials that hold a particular interest of ours. There is also the added bonus of getting firsthand accounts of events through oral histories of surviving participants.”

NSU’s Cammie G. Henry Research Center on the third floor of Watson Library is open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 8 a.m.-noon Friday. Collections include Louisiana books, archival material, microfilm, maps, newspapers, oral history tapes and documents that date from the early 1700s to the present. For research questions, tours or special appointments, contact Wernet at (318) 357-4585 or email wernet@nsula.edu. Information is also available at library.nsula.edu/Cammie-henry-research-center.