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Photograph by Tom Weizandt

The Legacy of Dayton O. Hyde

Dayton Hyde's journey began in Marquette, Michigan where, at the age of 13, he ran away to join his uncle on his Oregon cattle ranch, Yamsi. Dayton was drawn to Yamsi after reading his Uncle Buck’s letter about thirty wild horses being run into the corrals to be gentled by the ranch cowboys and mentioning catching foot long trout in the river out front of his house. What kid could have resisted going there?


This quote from Dayton’s book, The Pastures of Beyond, describes how he felt upon arrival at Yamsi: “Though I had no spare clothes or any money or had ever been more than sixty miles away from home and yet to ride a horse that day I became a cowboy.”

Dayton believed he was a cowboy first, conservationist second and writer third. As a kid, he had always wanted to ride a horse and he never turned down an adventure.

He was a man whose wonderful observations bring home the powerful fact that a human being is responsible to the land and is not its master.  All his life his curiosity compelled him to learn all he could about every creature inhabiting the land he nurtured. He felt that man does not have dominion over the earth but rather a responsibility to take care of all our fellow travelers.


As a result, he became an exceptional self-trained naturalist whose experiences enrich us all. Yamsi, a 6,000 acre working cattle ranch in Oregon’s Klamath Basin, is the setting for Dayton’s lively meditation on what it means to be a rancher in the West in the late twentieth century.  Hard work and hardships at Yamsi coexist with dedication to principles of conservation and sound ecology.  His exuberant, hard-fisted, often humorous portrait of a rancher’s life is told the way it ought to be told.

In 1987 during a cattle buying trip to Nevada, Dayton saw huge corrals full of sad-eyed wild horses recently captured by the federal government. He was angry over their plight of being rounded-up by helicopters and run in by men on horseback. It was just too cruel to take a wild horse away from their freedom and home and be contained in a corral.  In his mind, he envisioned large tracts of land with well-conceived fences so the wild horses could be given their freedom again.


With the idea fresh in his mind, he called up his family and asked them to take care of Yamsi - he was headed to Washington D.C. There he petitioned Congress to allow him to take some of the captured horses and create a sanctuary for them.


When South Dakota Governor George Mickelson heard of Dayton’s idea of a sanctuary for wild horses he asked Dayton to visit South Dakota to see a tract of land known as Chilson Canyon in the Southern Black Hills.  Ultimately, a partnership was formed between Dayton Hyde, the Governor, the Bureau of Land Management, and South Dakota Community Foundation. With the promise of this partnership, Dayton O. Hyde founded The Institute of Range and the American Mustang (IRAM) on this large tract of land in South Dakota.


Finally, in the early fall of 1988, after building many miles of fences on this piece of land, the first truck load of horses arrived. The horses rushed off the trucks in to this piece of heaven - their new forever home. One of the mustangs on the truck was a beautiful blue roan two year old filly named Prairie Lark, who became Dayton’s partner in exploring the sanctuary land and welcoming hundreds of horses to their newfound freedom.


Today Dayton’s largest conservation project is privately owned by the nonprofit IRAM organization and is located on the 11,000-acre Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary.  On the Sanctuary hundreds of mustangs, along with the native wildlife, enjoy their quality life of freedom. Dayton had envisioned this property as a piece of land worth saving and considered the wild horses as his partners in saving this land forever.


After thirty years of living in South Dakota, Dayton’s wild mustang, Lark, stood by the fence nickering softly. Sugarfoot, his Louisiana Plantation walking horse, paced thru the clouds hoping to not be late to greet him. Then there he was!   Quietly whispering a greeting, and with a gentle touch to their soft muzzles, Dayton O. Hyde walked with both of them to the Pastures of Beyond.



Dayton O. Hyde left us December 22, 2018, tired, at last, after a life well-lived until the very end. He was at peace, because he knew his beloved Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary was in the capable hands of his longtime friend and sanctuary manager, Susan Watt, and he could leave without worries.       



Dayton said, "One old cowboy can do quite a bit but it is up to us to Carry on the Dream of Keeping these Wild Horses Running Free". Please support the Dayton O. Hyde Legacy Fund to ensure that Dayton's mission will continue long into the future and the wild horse herds and all the wildlife will have a home at the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary forever.


Please contact Susan Watt for more information.


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Dayton's Published Books - some may be found through various used book dealers

“Sandy”, Dial Press 1968, reprinted 2000 by Oregon State University Press (soft cover)

“The Brand of a Boy”, WPBCO Press 1969

“Yamsi”, Dial Press 1971, reprinted 1996 by Oregon State University Press (soft cover)

“Last Free Man”, Dial Press 1971

“Cranes in My Corral”, Dial Press 1972

“Strange Companions”, Dutton 1973

“Raising Waterfowl in Captivity”, Dutton 1975

“Island of the Loons”, Macmillan 1983, reprinted 2002 Boyds Mills Press

“Thunder Down the Track”, Macmillan 1984

“Wilderness Ranch”, Macmillan 1985

“One Summer in Montana”, Macmillan 1985

“The Major, The Poacher, and the Wonderful One Trout River”, Macmillan 1986, reprinted in 1986 Boyds    Mills Press

“Don Coyote”, Arbor House 1986. On the American Library Association List Ten Best Books of the Decade 1987

**“The Bells of Lake Superior”, Boyds Mills Press 1995

“Life in the Saddle”, essay Tehabi Books 1995

“Thunder of the Mustangs”, essay Tehabi Books, Sierra Club Books, 1997

“Mr. Beans”, Boyds Mills Press 2000

“Don Coyote” Reprinted Johnson Books 2004

**“Pastures of Beyond, an Old Cowboy Looks Back at the Old West, Arcade Publishing 2005

**“All the Wild Horses” Voyageur Press 2006

**“Alone in the Forest” Volume1: Poet on the Prairie Collection, IRAM 2012  


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