Between 1945 to 1947, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration and the Brethren Service Committee of the Church of the Brethren sent nearly 7,000 men and boys ages 16 to 72 across the oceans to deliver livestock to war-torn countries. These “seagoing cowboys” made about 360 trips on 73 different ships.
Each cowboy’s story is unique to his experience, influenced by time of year and weather, type of ship, captain’s attitude, make up of the cowboy crew, type of cargo, port of departure, port of call, length of time in port, etc.
The seagoing cowboys traveled mostly to Poland, Italy, Greece, and Germany*, with a few trips to China, Belgium, and Djibouti. They delivered mostly horses, heifers, and mules, along with some chicks, rabbits, and goats – over 300,000 animals by the end of the program.
After UNRRA disbanded in 1947, the Brethren Service Committee’s Heifer Project (now today’s Heifer International) continued, using both men and women as cowboys and cowgirls. Shipments of animals by air were added.
A sampling of cowboy stories follows below. Each story is one piece of a larger history; readers should not generalize facts from these stories. As is often the case with firsthand accounts (some written many years after the experience), they may contain factual errors, and each story should be read simply to get a picture of the overall seagoing cowboy experience.
*Animals delivered to ports in Germany were transported by land to Czechoslovakia, as Germany was an occupied nation and therefore was not eligible for UNRRA goods.
Brethren seminary and college student crew, S. S. Queens Victory, June 1946, Germany/Czechoslovakia.
(This account is from the Bethany Biblical Seminary Bulletin of October-December, 1946; Volume 34, Number 4. It is posted with permission of Bethany Theological Seminary.)
Bradshaw, Melvin: S. S. Carroll Victory, May 1946, Poland
Finke, Raymond: Ray Finke and the Seagoing Cowboys, Facebook postings of letters of Ray Finke, S. S. Mount Whitney, January 1947.
Force, Carlton: 1955, Germany
Hawkins, Lurty Preston: S. S. Charles W. Wooster, August 1945, Greece
Heatwole, Kenneth: S. S. Lahaina Victory, July 1946, Poland
Leach, Robert H. (Bob): S. S. Contest, June 1948, Japan
Loganbill, Earl E.: S. S. Gainesville Victory, February 1946, Germany
Martin, James: S. S. F. J. Luckenbach, March 1946, Poland
Meyer, Arthur: S. S. Robert W. Hart, June 1946, Poland
Nunemaker, John: S. S. Queens Victory, September 1946, Poland (source: Mennonite Church USA Archives/Historical Commission)
Pownall, Herb: S. S. Edwin D. Howard, April 1946, Germany
Ramsey, Reed: S. S. Bucknell Victory, April 1946, Poland
Regier, Raymond: S. S. John J. Crittenden, November 1945, Italy
Slagenweit, David Andrew: S. S. Mount Whitney, January 1947, Poland
Thomas, Norman E., ed.: Horses for Humanity: A Report on a Mission to Poland by Eleven Ministers — voyage of the S. S. Mount Whitney, January 1947, Poland.
Voth, Leland: S. S. Morgantown Victory, May 1946, Poland with chicks
Walther, Paul: S. S. Charles W. Wooster, April 1946, Greece
Wenger, Herbert C.: S. S. Samuel H. Walker, December 1945, Greece & Crete
White, David H.: S. S. John L. McCarley, July 1946, Poland
Header photo credit: Megan Oliver – Tribute to the Seagoing Cowboy Tour; June 11, 2009