The best place in White River Country

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MEEKER I Last Sunday many members of the Watson family gathered to celebrate the 89th birthday of Lee Watson.  Later this month he and his wife Eva Dean will celebrate their 63rd wedding anniversary. Born in Cedar City, Utah, Lee moved to Glenwood Springs, where he attended school through the seventh grade. When the Great Depression struck, he moved to Salt Lake City, which brought him back to Yellow Creek. He helped run about 700 sheep. He worked to feed the sheep that winter and then moved back to Glenwood to attend school and work for his room and board. “I just worked and went to school, that’s all I did,” Lee said. He then joined the Air Force, where he was accepted into flight training. First, he had to attend Texas A & M for educational training, then on to Vernon, Texas, for primary flight training. He flew B-25 twin engine bombers and received his “wings” from his instructor who handed them down after flying in 57 successful missions.Lee went to Del Rio, Texas, to fly the bigger B-26 bombers next. He had orders to pick up his crew and head to England but World War II ended before he had to go. He then became a test pilot at Randolph Field until he completed his three years of military service.Ready to “get in business” trading land and making a living, Lee returned to the area. Banks in Routt and Moffat counties loaned him $125,000 to buy Brown’s Park Livestock. He met Eva Dean, and the two were married and spent their first winter together in Brown’s Park in 1948. They were stranded for three weeks by the snow and recall their Christmas at Eva Dean’s parents’, the Paces, as their last glimpse of civilization.After several years in Brown’s Park Lee and Eva Dean moved to Meeker and bought their current ranch in five parcels in 1958. They eventually got into the horse business and started raising race horses. Their first horse was Bomber Bars. He was a big winner that eventually wound up as a kids’ horse. Another horse, Blowing Dust, was “a little rat but he could run,” Lee said. They later sold Blowing Dust to a man from California who had great success with him. Their next big winner was a horse named Counter Man, a big sorrel that won a big race in Roosevelt. Their trainer took him to be a chariot racer and he won the finals three years in a row. One of the L–V’s best stud horses was named Treasure Island. He won several races himself, but threw great colts for running, roping and speed events, as well. One of their great mares, Dariot, won all-American honors. The Watsons began a hunting camp on Strawberry Creek in 1977, and ran it until 2009, when they began leasing it out.Lee and Eva Dean have five children. Jim and Diana, living on the ranch in Meeker; Chris lives in Denver and works for the Arvada Police Department; Keith and Kim live in Grand Junction where Keith runs a construction business and works in Arizona, Meeker, Grand Junction and anywhere else someone needs something built; Kellie and her husband Joe Conrado own Meeker Sand and Gravel; and Colleen lives in Morristown, Ariz. They have 13 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.They love the Meeker area because of the life it has provided and enjoy their ranch just outside of town. Lee calls it “the best place in the White River country.” Eva Dean enjoys the convenience of not being too far out of town. They have enjoyed having their family close and visiting their daughter in Denver.The two have made a life for themselves trading land and being savvy business people. They have owned land in Brown’s Park, Axial Basin, several areas near Meeker and perhaps their greatest investment was their 47 acres in Battlement Mesa years ago. They have handed down a love for horses and a great deal of family triumph. Happy 89th birthday to Lee and happy anniversary to Lee and Eva Dean, still going strong after 63 years of marriage.