Writer, naturalist, and lifelong cowboy Dayton O. Hyde describes the changes he discovered in the American West after his return from the European combat theater following World War II: The cowboys who once worked the ranches had found better pay in airplane factories, and whether they were migrating to cities or retiring, the oral history of ranch life was disappearing. As a ranch hand who’d made his way to Berkeley for an English degree, Hyde decided it was his job to document the lore of the cowboys, writing the first of over 20 books of nonfiction and fiction about cowboy life. Running Wild: The Life of Dayton O. Hyde documents a number of pivotal moments in which Hyde receives and accepts urgent calls to heroism, the most significant of which was the establishment of the 12,000-acre Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in South Dakota. Following mass roundups of wild horses by the state, Hyde found half-starved animals crowded into pens waiting for sale or slaughter. He put up $20,000 to free them and embarked on a bureaucratic odyssey for a permanent wildlife reserve. Director Suzanne Mitchell captures gorgeous images, including golden-hour shots of the preserve’s galloping herds, blizzards sweeping across the hills and blanketing the horses, while Dayton describes in voiceover how horses love the falling snow, climbing hills to stand in it while “lesser animals” retreat. Mitchell interviews Hyde’s family, including adult children and his first wife, with whom he split after their 22-year-old daughter was thrown from a horse and killed. Through photos and family lore, but mostly through Dayton’s own eloquence, Mitchell assembles a biographical portrait that’s inspiring in the best possible way.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 2, 2013