Decker, Peter R. 1934–

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Decker, Peter R. 1934–

(Peter Randolph Decker)


Born October 1, 1934 in New York, NY; son of Frank Randolph and Marjorie Decker; married Dorothy Morss, September 24, 1972; children: Karen, Christopher, Hilary. Education: Middlebury College, B.A., 1957; Syracuse University, M.A., 1961; Columbia University, Ph.D., 1974. Politics: Democrat.


Office—Double D Ranch, 6748 Highway 62, Ridgway, CO 81432-9796; fax: 303-861-8216; 750 Pennsylvania St., Denver, CO 80203. E-mail—[email protected].


Congressional Quarterly, Washington, DC, senior writer, 1963-64; Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT, assistant to the president, 1964-67; Senator Robert Kennedy's office, Washington, staff assistant, 1967-68; Columbia University, New York, NY, instructor and lecturer, between 1972 and 1974; Duke University, Durham, NC, assistant professor, 1974-80; Double D Ranches, Ridgway, owner and operator, 1980—. Colorado commissioner of agriculture, 1987-89. Military service: U.S. Army, armor, 1957-60. U.S. Army Reserve; became captain.


National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Western Livestock Association, Colorado Livestock Association, Colorado Authors' League, Denver Athletic Club, Elks.


Fellow of National Endowment for the Humanities at Yale University, 1977-78; humanities fellow, Rockefeller Foundation, 1979-80; D.H.L., Fort Lewis College, 2006.


Fortunes and Failures: White-Collar Mobility in Nineteenth-Century San Francisco, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1978.

Old Fences, New Neighbors, University of Arizona Press (Tucson, AZ), 1998.

The Utes Must Go, Fulcrum Books (Golden, CO), 2005.

Contributor of articles to journals and newspapers, including Northern Lights, Massachusetts Review, Chronicle, Community, Durango Herald, and Denver Post.


Peter R. Decker's first book, Fortunes and Failures: White-Collar Mobility in Nineteenth-Century San Francisco, is a historical overview of San Francisco's transformation from a commercial port city of 30,000 people in the early 1850s to a largely industrial city of 200,000 thirty years later. Decker gives readers an account of the boom and bust cycles of the city, the origins of the merchant class and their leadership in organizing the social and political structure of the city, and the strength of the organized blue-collar workers. Writing in the American Historical Review, Michael Weber praised Decker's scholarship, observing that he "has made an important first attempt to combine both statistical and traditional data in studying class difference in mobility rates." Suggesting that Decker's work goes beyond a mere analysis of facts, Weber also noted that Decker "succeeded in bringing the human element to the New Urban History."

In Old Fences, New Neighbors, Decker explains contemporary societal shifts based on his personal experience as a cattle rancher. Decker and his wife moved from New York City to Ouray County, Colorado in the early 1970s and bought a cattle ranch. When Decker moved to Ouray, the area was a remote ranching and mining community. Over the following twenty years, the area gradually became gentrified. As Decker commented in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "Today more than half of the income of Ouray County's residents is derived from dividends, interest, rest, and transfer payments. Retirees far outnumber ranchers and their employees. There are still more cattle than people, but the ratio is lessening." A Kirkus Reviews critic found the book highly informative, calling it "like the county it chronicles—small, but brimming with instructive examples of the hard choices facing the denizens of America's last, best places." Fred Egloff, writing in Booklist, explained that Decker's description of the changes in Ouray serves as a "microcosm" of the "changes caused by the gentrification that is sweeping even the more remote areas of the American West." Egloff evaluated the book as a "very interesting examination of a topical subject that raises questions that will not be resolved until tested by time and the vicissitudes of both the economy and the government."

Decker told CA: "I write to tell a story both to myself and to my readers; also to discover and learn more about the topic at hand, be it nonfiction or fiction. For instance, my knowledge of Native American culture was greatly enhanced by my research about the Ute tribe for The Utes Must Go. Likewise, I discovered a better understanding of my own hometown county after writing Old Fences, New Neighbors.

"I am particularly sensitive about my writing style. As a professionally trained historian, I became sensitive to and critical of much professional writing (history and other social science disciplines)—the jargon and hence limited appeal to a non-academic audience. I am particularly impressed with the historical writings of David McCullough, William Leuchtenburg, Joseph Ellis, William Chafe, and Barbara Tuchman—as much for their research as for their writing style.

"Before I write anything I have completed almost all of the research I believe is necessary for the subject. I then write from a chapter outline, nothing detailed, but enough of a guide to myself to develop the story. My research notes are organized by chapters, and I write from my notes (which include the source for a footnote where and when needed). I may find in the writing of a chapter that more research or clarification is needed, so I'll break the writing process to complete the research. I finish all the chapters, reread the manuscripts, make necessary changes, and send the draft to my editor. I am a writer who puts a great deal of faith in a good editor. I expect a close and critical reading. If I don't get it from my in-house editor, I will find (and have found) a good editor outside the publishing house.

"Like most writers, I come to a subject because of a personal interest. Beforehand, I know there is a story to be told. I may not know the ending, but I do have an idea of where the story is leading, the characters, and the setting. In the case of The Utes Must Go, the story had been told before, but not well and not within the context I thought appropriate. I also write a book to clarify a historical trend (Fortunes and Failures) and another to capture the rapid changes impacting a traditional, rural, agricultural community (Old Fences, New Neighbors).

"I am now attempting to write fiction, a different animal from narrative history. Some rules remain the same: use of the active voice, relating a story that will hold the interest of the reader, setting sell-described scenes, creating characters with personalities. But the use of one's imagination is critical in fiction (a real danger in narrative history) and at the same time, the writer of fiction is not tied to the dictates of historical events. History, I find, can be woven into fiction, but one must be careful not to overplay its use and application.

"In the end, writing must be fun for the writer and the reader."



American Historical Review, April, 1979, Michael P. Weber, review of Fortunes and Failures: White-Collar Mobility in Nineteenth-Century San Francisco, pp. 563-564.

Booklist, September 1, 1998, Fred Egloff, review of Old Fences, New Neighbors, p. 60.

Choice, October, 1978, review of Fortunes and Failures, p. 1132.

Kirkus Reviews, September 11, 1998, review of Old Fences, New Neighbors, p. 943.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, February 14, 1999, review of Old Fences, New Neighbors, p. 11.

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Decker, Peter R. 1934–

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