MARQUETTE - Dayton Hyde's love of horses spans more than 70 years.
Born in Marquette in 1925, Hyde was one of five children. At the young age of 13, he ran away from home to his uncle's ranch in Oregon and learned the ropes as a "cattle man."
It wasn't until age 64, though, that Hyde moved to South Dakota and began a journey that quickly made him a well-known name.
Horses gallop at Dayton Hyde’s wild horse sanctuary. (“Running Wild” film crew photo )
When the government wanted to get rid of a group of wild horses out west, an idea formed in Hyde's head.
"I parked by the road and walked over to the fence that held 2,000 wild horses. I really looked at them," Hyde said.
He said he had always had a great affection for wild horses. Many of the horses he rode as a boy were wild at first. After years of working with these animals, Hyde decided he needed to do more.
At the start, it was slow going, but to Hyde, it was a vision worth fighting for. Hyde, 87, now owns 13,000 acres of land known as the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary that saves horses from slaughter.
"They (horses) run wild and free," Hyde said. "It's gorgeous land with the Cheyenne River running through several miles of it. But most importantly, it was a piece of land that needed to be protected."
Through the years, Hyde has worked to educate himself on the land and its inhabitants. Aside from running the ranch, he has also penned 17 books, including stories that take place in his native Upper Peninsula.
Hyde said the 500 horses now on his sanctuary are doing well, however as often happens, there are always roadblocks along the way. He recalled haystacks costing around $60 years ago when he first began his operation. Today, that price has climbed to $250. Still, Hyde said the years on the ranch have been good to him, the horses and his staff and he is optimistic the future will be bright.
"All the local people told me I was crazy," he laughed. "That no one would pay to come see these horses and this land ... I proved them wrong."
He said many people deserve credit for the success of the Black Hills Sanctuary. One such person is Susan Watts, who has known Hyde for years.
Watts headed to South Dakota to help Hyde with his work. She now manages the staff, tourism, brings in grants and develops new ideas.
On March 25, Hyde will turn 88. But he's not ready to throw in the towel. That was an attitude which attracted EmmyAward-winning producer Suzanne Mitchell, who spent 15 years traveling to the sanctuary and documenting Hyde's life. She, along with Academy Award-winning executive producer Barbara Kopple and their crew, finally wrapped filming this past summer. The film they produced, "Running Wild: The Life of Dayton O. Hyde," has been entered into the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, which takes place this month. The festival was created with the motto "By Filmmakers, for Filmmakers," and has been catering to emerging artists for more than 18 years.
"It will be fun to go down for the festival and see everyone," Hyde said. "Hopefully the film will be well received."
Amongst running his sanctuary, attending a film festival and recently writing a book of poetry, Hyde said he is now up against his last fight: uranium mining. He said a company plans to mine on land that he said would pollute the water and contaminate the ecosystem that support the horses, residents and wildlife of his Black Hills Sanctuary.
"In my old age it'll be my last battle, but I'm gonna win that one," Hyde said.
Despite more than seven decades since he first left the Upper Peninsula, Hyde said it is a place he still frequents.
"Marquette residents should know that there are still people out there that love Marquette," he said. "Once you've been born there (Upper Peninsula), you never really leave."
Abbey Hauswirth can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 240. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org