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The Boathouse Blog

Uncomfortably Famous: The Buzz Holmstrom Story

“Some people have said I conquered the Colorado. I don’t say so. It has never been conquered, and never will I think. Anyone it allows to go through its canyons and see its wonders should feel thankful and privileged.”

Buzz_HolmstromNear noon on Thanksgiving Day 1937, Buzz Holmstrom rowed his hand-made wooden boat across the still water behind Boulder Dam. The November sun was warm, and the afternoon winds had yet to make an appearance. As Holmstrom neared the looming shadow of the massive structure, he took one last stroke and allowed the bow of his boat to bump into the concrete face, an act unimaginable today. He cocked his head skyward toward the distant lip of the dam as if to quietly announce, “I’m here!”

In that moment the modest Holmstrom, a gas station attendant from Coquille, Oregon, became the first person to complete a solo (52-day) voyage on the 1,100-mile Green and Colorado Rivers. Within days the story of his amazing voyage was in newspapers and on radio stations across the country. Holmstrom, much to his dismay, became uncomfortably famous.

Nine years later, on the evening of May 18, 1946, Holmstrom’s body was found on a game trail downriver from the confluence of the Grande Ronde and Wallowa Rivers – Rondowa. For decades the sad mystery of what happened on the banks of the Grande Ronde River plagued all those who knew Holmstrom.

vince welchJune 27-29, 2014, join Winding Waters Rivers Expeditions and author/river guide Vince Welch for The Buzz Holmstrom Story: A Historical Journey on the Grand Ronde this spring. Each night Welch, co-author of The Doing of the Thing – the Brief, Brilliant Whitewater Career of Buzz Holmstrom, will recount aspects of Holmstrom’s life, epic voyage through Grand Canyon, and untimely death.

(Mountaineers Books (Seattle, Washington) recently published Welch’s latest effort The Last Voyageur – Amos Burg and The Rivers of the West, an account of another Oregon river runner who left his mark on the history of fast water navigation.)