Buzz Holmstrom
Convergence The Newsletter for Sundog Expeditions

Expert Boatman - Haldane "Buzz"

By Vince Welch

Near 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!”

Buzz HolmstromBuzz Holmstrom at Boulder Dam

In that moment the modest Holmstrom, a gas station attendant form 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. He had hired on to build two boats and to lead a group of USCGS (United States Coast and Geodetic Survey) surveyors. The 37-year-old Holmstrom had died of a bullet wound to the head. Although the local coroner’s report stated that the fatal wound had been self-inflicted, Holmstrom’s family and friends were stunned by the report. They vehemently claimed that Buzz would never do such a thing. For decades the sad mystery of what happened on the banks of the Grande Ronde River plagued all those who knew Holmstrom.

Buzz and BoatBuzz Holmstrom

Come join Sundog Expeditions and author/river guide Vince Welch on the Grand Ronde this spring to learn more about the Holmstrom story. 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.

Vince Welch

Vince Welch has written for Oregon Coast, Wend, Rivers, Boatman's Quarterly Review, Utne Reader, and The Hibernacle News. His most recent book “The Last Voyageur: Amos Burg and the Rivers of the West,” was published by Mountain Books, October 2012. Welch lives in Portland, Oregon with his family and a bunch of chickens and continues to run rivers throughout the West.