Seagoing Cowboys

Dan West had no inkling that an idea implanted in his mind in 1938 would lead to the “trip of a lifetime” for some 7,000 men, ages 16 to 72. West was an Indiana gentleman farmer and church worker who lived under the conviction that he should do as much for peace as a soldier does for war. He went to Spain during the Spanish Civil War to help provide relief for the war’s victims through a cooperative program of the three Historic Peace Churches: the Quakers, the Mennonites, and the Church of the Brethren.

The futility of doling out limited supplies of powdered milk for infants brought West to the vision of sending cows to Spain; then the people could feed themselves and regain some dignity. West’s vision became a reality when the Service Committee of his church, the Church of the Brethren, adopted the Heifer Project plan in January 1943. By then, however, World War II was raging and heifers couldn’t be shipped abroad. So the first shipment in 1944 was made to Puerto Rico. Find a report on this trip here (reproduced with permission of Messenger).

When World War II ended, the Brethren Service Committee had a dilemma: the Heifer Project had over 1,000 heifers ready to ship, but no ships. The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), created by 44 nations in November 1943 to provide postwar relief, also had a dilemma. They had ships, but no cattle tenders for the 200,000 head of livestock they planned to ship to devastated countries.

UNRRA knew about the Brethren shipment to Puerto Rico and the interest of the Brethren in sending heifers to Europe, and a partnership was born. The Brethren Service Committee would recruit the livestock attendants for UNRRA’s shipments, and UNRRA would ship the Brethren heifers free of charge.

Between June 24, 1945, and mid-1947, nearly 7,000 men and boys from all across the United States and Canada enlisted to serve as “seagoing cowboys.”

See The UNRRA Years and Cowboy Stories to learn more about them.

UNRRA disbanded at the close of 1946, with some livestock shipments carrying into 1947. This created a problem for the Heifer Project. Read more in After UNRRA.

Header photo credit: Eugene K. Souder, aboard the S.S. DePauw Victory en route to Greece, December 1946.