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Sellwood author offers history of Western river exploration

by: RITA A. LEONARD - Vince Welch wrote his latest book, 'The Last Voyageur: Amos Burg and the Rivers of the West', in this shed he built in his Sellwood back yard.Sellwood's resident author and river guide has just published a new book, focused on historic river exploration of the Western United States.

“The Last Voyageur: Amos Burg and the Rivers of the West” (Mountaineers Books, paperback, 320 pgs), compiles his research of Portland native and river pioneer Amos Burg, who was the first to canoe down the entire free-flowing Snake and Columbia Rivers before they were dammed.

Often traveling solo, Burg (1901-1986) relished the romance and adventure of traversing the clean, wild waters of western U.S., Canada, and Alaska. “He was a gentleman adventurer, endlessly curious, and he loved rivers,” says Welch. “He spent his life searching out the beauty and spiritual rejuvenation they provided, and is considered the only person to have run all major Western rivers from source to mouth.”

Welch learned about Burg while he was himself a river guide in the Grand Canyon. Welch has written for several national magazines, including the “Mountain Gazette”, where he is a senior correspondent. He is also co-author of “The Doing of the Thing: The Brief, Brilliant Whitewater Career of Buzz Holmstrom”. “I write in a backyard shed I built, and have taken my children on river adventures every year since they were babies,” reveals Welch.

Amos Burg was a dreamy child with a talent for writing. He went to sea at age 15, educating himself by reading a set of Encyclopedia Brittanica he brought with him. As an adult, he was a photographer and National Geographic writer, and well as a speaker and filmmaker. He loved to share his stories of wilderness adventure, focusing on the natural beauty and poetry of the West. As one of the first true commercial river guides, Burg witnessed a changing frontier, contributing to his sense of history and environmental stewardship.

Welch has produced a well-researched, historical adventure story, using extensive material from Burg's journals and notes in the Oregon Historical Society and Alaska State Library. His favorite part of the book was in comparing Burg with Buzz Holmstrum; learning how each man approached the river.

“Burg was a gentle, witty man who was full of quips,” says Welch. “He often said, ‘How we treat our rivers says a lot about who we are.’ He was able to live his dream, using rivers to explain the history, poetry, and fundamental respect we have for the environment. Writing is my own way of doing that. It gives me a richer sense of Oregon through the stories of people who were here before.”