I grew up in the town of Riverton, Wyoming in the 1970s and 1980s. Though not technically on reservation land, the town was surrounded by the Wind River Indian Reservation. My father – Dennis Francis Horyza – was the police chief of this town. And being that it was encompassed by reservation land, he had many dealings with the Arapahoes and Shoshones (the two tribes that share these lands) and their governmental agencies. He was generally well-liked and respected and it wasn’t long before the tribes were referring to him as Chief Yellow Hair. My dad had wispy fine blonde hair at the time and actually never went gray before his death on August 30, 2014 at age 78.
My dad worked hard throughout his life and was always a good provider for our family. Despite a divorce and starting over at age 54, he was able to amass quite a savings before he passed away. It was with some of the money he left me that I was able to justify buying a small camping trailer. Because of this, I thought I might name my camper Chief Yellow Hair.
I remember a few years back when I told my dad I was going tent camping for five days in the Utah desert by myself over my spring break from school. “Jesus Christ, Bubbie,” he growled over the phone, “whose kid are you? You can’t stay in a tent by yourself in the middle of nowhere!” When I told him that that was exactly what I was going to do, that there was a lot of country I needed to see and explore, he said, “You damn well better have a gun and you damn well better know how to use it.” I’d like to think that my dad is happy that I can now lock the door of my camping trailer and keep myself safe.
For its first official outing, Jim and I hustled out of town on a Friday night and drove only about 20 miles to Highline State Park at Highline Lake. It was early March and we were the only ones at the campground. While having a dinner of chips, guacamole, and margaritas and listening to peace and quiet music, I said something to Jim about how relaxing it was here in the “spa chief.” Now, another name my dad had, in addition to Chief Yellow Hair, was Pa Chief. This was his grandpa name that everyone used, starting in 1985 when his first grandchild was born. He never wanted to be called Grandpa and definitely not Grandpa Dennis, so family called him Pa Chief and towns-people called him Chief Yellow Hair or just Chiefy. I always called him dad. Anyway, when “spa chief” came out of my mouth, Jim and I both knew that this would be the official name of the camping trailer. It’s just perfect, and we know there will be much relaxing and healing going on whenever we use it.
Thank you, dad, now and forever. I’m glad you’ll be along in spirit for all of the Spa Chief adventures.