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Gracie Petrakian grew up in Meeker, before moving to Silt for her senior year of high school.
Then it was off to college at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, where she had a roommate from New Jersey. Petrakian, whose last name was Hughes then, accompanied her roommate home for Christmas one year, where she ended up meeting her future husband.
“I’ve been gone ever since,” Petrakian said.
But she never forgot her ties to northwest Colorado. Or her love for its people and places, particularly the Piceance Creek area, where her father homesteaded in the 1920s.
That’s why she decided to write a book about the area.
Thumbing through a book about the history of the White River Valley, she had a moment of inspiration.
“I realized there was a lot missing (about the Piceance Creek area),” Petrakian said. “It was like, well, it’s time to put this together. These stories need to be written down, before no one remembers who settled where, who married who, what the schools were like. I felt like it was something I really wanted to do.”
It was her sense of history that inspired her as well.
“I wanted to tell the stories of those who can’t tell them anymore,” Petrakian said. “I wanted to preserve the past, particularly for the children and grandchildren of the settlers on Piceance Creek. I want it to be a book of facts about the area and cowboying and ranching and the Ute Indians.”
The book will be titled “Land of Tall Grass.”
“Piceance is supposedly a Ute Indian word meaning tall grass, which is the reason why I picked that title,” Petrakian said.
The book will focus on about a 40-year period.
“I’ve gone from 1879, when the Utes were kicked out, starting from that and then go up to about 1920, maybe the 1930s,” Petrakian said. “I will devote a chapter to the Utes, because they were here prior to the homesteaders. I’m going to call that chapter “The Vanishing Footprints.”
While working on the book, Petrakian has made trips back to northwest Colorado. When in Meeker, she stays with her brother, Torrance, and his wife, Connie.
During her visits to the area, Petrakian has been researching old records.
“I’ve done document searches through the BLM and found homestead claims,” she said. “From about the time of the Meeker Massacre, from 1880 to 1900, I counted something like 57 claims in Piceance Creek and Yellow Creek. That covers what you call the Piceance Basin.
“The actual length of Piceance Creek is 45 miles, before it feeds in to the White River,” she added. “Yellow Creek is also a tributary that flows into the White River.”
Petrakian said her “family has always, more or less, been in the Piceance Creek area.” Petrakian attended Rock School from the fourth- through the eighth grade. She then attended Meeker High School for three years.
During her research visits to the area, Petrakian has looked at old census records.
“I can find 1880, 1890 is missing, a fire destroyed those census records, 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930,” she said. “I want to take the census reports and pull out how many people were living on the creek during those times.”
For Petrakian, writing a book is a new experience.
“This is totally a first for me,” she said, adding she began researching the book two years ago. “My goal is to have it ready next Fourth of July. I hope to do a book signing during Range Call.”
During the book-writing process, Petrakian is working cooperatively with the Rio Blanco Historical Society.
“The Rio Blanco County Historical Society is excited about the book that Gracie is writing about the history of the Piceance Creek area,” said Steve Wix, historical society president. “Gracie has spent many hours in the White River Museum utilizing the resources there for her research. We hope to have her new book for sale at the museum, along with the many other books that we have for sell on the rich history of this area.”
Through her research, as well as her visits to the Piceance Basin, Petrakian has seen how the land has been altered by oil and gas development.
“It definitely makes me sad,” she said. “I’ve found a picture, doing this research, of what was called the PL Ranch. Si Berthelson, he owned that ranch. In an area of the ranch, they actually took off the side of a hill. When you go there, you don’t see what was there. The whole hillside has been taken off.”
Petrakian’s father, Kay Hughes, was a rancher.
“He was a cowboy,” she said. “If you go in to the Meeker Museum, and go all of the way back, there’s a poem there, written about Kay Hughes riding Ace Hi in the Fourth of July parade.”
Petrakian’s ties to the area have given her access to some of the old-time families in Rio Blanco County.
“I’ve gotten such great cooperation from people like the Oldland family, the Burke family, the Brennan family and Pat Johnson,” Petrakian said. “The book will include a lot of photos I used by permission from those families.”
Petrakian has put out some feelers, but she is still looking for a publisher of her book. For a limited-publication book of 500 copies, 200 pages and 50 photos, she said she was looking at at least $10,000.
“I will probably end up having to self-publish,” she said. “I have contacted some publishing companies, and they said they would take a look at it, but it is very local history.”
She is also considering approaching some of the energy companies, who are engaged in oil and gas development in the Piceance Basin, to request help in financing publication of her book.
“I intend to pursue that,” Petrakian said. “I think it would be a good PR move for them.”
Whether she finds funding help or not, for Petrakian, writing this book has been a labor of love.
“Absolutely,” she said. “I’m doing it for my mom and dad and all of those ancestors, people who lived on creek, whose names might have been forgotten.”