By Adam Hurlburt
Black Hills Pioneer
HOT SPRINGS — “Don’t move,” he told her as 100-plus wild horses galloped straight toward them. “They won’t trample you.” Suzanne Mitchell was pregnant. Mitchell had only recently left New York City. Mitchell had expensive camera equipment to worry about. But Dayton O. Hyde knew what he was talking about. He put his hand on her shoulder. The horses slowed and stopped right before them.
That’s one of Mitchell’s favorite memories with Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary founder Dayton O. Hyde, 88, of Hot Springs. After experiencing many moments like that Mitchell, a 50-year-old filmmaker from New York City, knew she had to put together a feature-length documentary on Hyde, an award-winning author and cowboy who’s known for his dedication to the conservation of nature, whether in South Dakota, Oregon or his native Michigan.
So she did it. And “Running Wild: The Life of Dayton O. Hyde,” her directorial debut is playing in the Northern and Southern Hills this week as part of the Black Hills Film Festival.
“This film looks at the life of a man who has spent his entire life giving back to the earth, to the land, to the animals,” Mitchell said. “This cowboy from Oregon, at 62 he comes to South Dakota because he wants to not only save wild horses, but also a piece of America. In a sense the horses are his partners in saving the land.”
“Running Wild” has been in the works for some time, now. Mitchell met Hyde in 1992 when she put together a short television piece on him for People Magazine’s 20th anniversary that ran on ABC. The magazine had originally done a print story on Hyde, which motivated Mitchell to do the segment. Then in 1996 Mitchell was working on an ABC special called “New Passages,” which was about people following certain patterns unique to their age groups. People in their 60s, it turned out, were making drastic changes in their lives. Mitchell immediately thought of Hyde. It was at the tail end of filming that segment when she decided she had to do a feature-length documentary on the man and his remarkable life.
As is often the case, Mitchell said, marriage and kids got in the way for a while. Production was delayed until recently, which Mitchell feels was a blessing in disguise.
“What’s really interesting to me is that life sort of guides you directions -- this film has taken a new purpose as Dayton is now fighting uranium miners that want to mine for uranium in the Black Hills, which could contaminate the ground water and do other damage,” she said, pointing out that if film production had begun earlier this aspect of the story wouldn’t be there.
More than 600 wild horses call Hyde’s 12,000 acres of pristine land near Hot Springs home. Hyde’s compassion isn’t just limited to animals and land, though. Hyde was honored in a Lakota naming ceremony last year, receiving the name Wapiya Owanyanke, or Protector of Ceremonies, for turning his sanctuary over to the Lakota people for Sundances every year since 1996.
Singer-songwriter Steve Poltz, 53, of San Diego, who scored “Running Wild,” said Hyde seemed a bit imposing when he first met him at the sanctuary, but that he swiftly learned he had a huge personality.
“When you look at him you look at an 88-year-old cowboy who looks like John Wayne, and then you find out he’s written 20 novels and he’s written poetry,” he said. “I didn’t know he’d be so funny and so spiritual. I didn’t know I’d become such good friends with Dayton. That’s sort of been the big gift in all this.”
Hyde had such a big impact on Mitchell that her 16-year-old son’s middle name is Dayton. The filmmaker said there’s one big reason she’s so excited to bring “Running Wild” to South Dakota audiences.
“I want them to know what they have in their own back yard and this film will get them to appreciate it,” she said.
“Running Wild: The Life of Dayton O. Hyde” screens at 7 p.m. tonight at the Hot Springs Theater in Hot Springs. Moviegoers are encouraged to bring two cans of food to donate to the Hot Springs Food Pantry. The film will also screen at 7 p.m. Friday at the Hill City High School in Hill City and at 2 p.m. Sunday at the High Plains Western Heritage Center in Spearfish.