The Longest Ride – Part I: A Man with a Mission

The longest UNRRA livestock trip of which I am aware lasted five months. The 32 seagoing cowboys who signed on to the S. S. Carroll Victory in November 1946 were aware that the ship would take horses to Greece and then go down to South Africa to pick up more horses to take back to Greece, and possibly repeat the trip to South Africa, which it did. I have a number of accounts of this trip and will share their stories over the next several posts.

S. S. Carroll Victory, photo © Charles Lord

Charlie Lord signed on to the Carroll Victory at age 26 with a mission in mind: documenting the trip photographically for publication. Lord had spent three-and-a-half years in Civilian Public Service during World War II, serving part of that time at the Philadelphia State Mental Hospital at Byberry. In May 1946, Life magazine had published some of Lord’s photographs, taken on the sly, of the horrendous conditions and treatment of the mentally ill. These images shocked the country and gave impetus to a reform movement for more humane treatment of mentally ill persons. Lord knew that UNRRA seagoing cowboy crews were often interracial, following the success of the experimental interracial crew during the summer; so this time around, in the age of Jim Crow, Lord hoped to capture a story of an interracial seagoing cowboy crew working together in harmony.

Lord wrote a postcard to his wife September 26 after arriving at the Naval Landing Building in Norfolk, Virginia, to get his seaman’s papers. What he saw in Virginia troubled him. “The segregation burns me up,” he told her. “It cuts my heart every time I step on a street-car, bus, or ferry and see a little sign ‘Segregation of Races,’ a synopsis of laws of Va. as effective June 11, 1946 etc. Every motorman is a deputy sheriff in case of trouble!”

A maritime strike kept Lord waiting a month in Newport News, Virginia, before he was able to sign on to a ship. He took advantage of the time to take photos of the Terminal Stockyards where the livestock were collected, inspected, and culled and photos of the Brethren Service Center office.

Horses awaiting shipment at the Terminal Stockyards in Newport News, Virginia, October 1946. Photo © Charles Lord.

“I talked with the fellows at BSC office about the article for Life,” he told his wife. “They are quite interested and will give me full cooperation. They think UNRRA will too.”

Seagoing cowboys in line for assignment to a ship, October 1946. Photo © Charles Lord.

When shipping resumed, Lord had a choice between a ship headed for Poland or a ship going to Greece and South Africa – a choice he had to make before knowing the racial makeup of the cowboy crew. He chose the longer trip. “I hope it is the wisest course,” he told his wife. “It will lose much of its significance if the interracial angle falls through. . . . I should be able to get 2 or 3 stories out of the trip, one using pictures only of Greece and back for a typical trip, one using all pictures for an amazing trip and a very non-typical one, and one emphasizing the interracial aspect for Look or Ebony perhaps. It seems an opportunity impossible to pass up. It is almost the first and last time a person can make such a trip without paying a lot for it probably.”

From the album of fellow cowboy and photographer Paul Beard, courtesy of Heifer International.

“This trip means endless photographic opportunities, but alas, that means endless film. . . . I will be in Greece 3 different times for several days each time, at two ports in Africa with a chance to spend a few days ashore, each time we’ll go through Suez Canal, along Egypt, and when loaded, we may even go around Cape Horn and up western coast clear around Africa to save horses from the terrific heat of the Suez. The water temperature itself gets up to 90º they say.”

Next post: Life on board

In Memoriam

Another fifth Friday has rolled around, and with it a post remembering seagoing cowboys no longer with us.

Good, Ellis, January 10, 2022, Bourbonnais, Illinois. S. S. F. J. Luckenbach to Poland, January 15, 1946.

Guyer, C. Albert, February 28, 2022, Martinsburg, Pennsylvania. S. S. Mexican to Poland, November 8, 1945.

Kaufman, Lester, February 14, 2022, Millersburg, Ohio. S. S. Joshua Hendy to Poland, December 8, 1945.

Lammers, Richard Lewis, February 2, 2016, Pleasant Hill, Tennessee. S. S. Spartanburg Victory to Italy, March 17, 1947.

Layman, Wilbur Clement, January 24, 2022, Harrisonburg, Virginia. S. S. Charles W. Wooster to Greece, August 15, 1945; S. S. Bucknell Victory to Poland, February 16, 1946.

Morehouse, John, Jr., February 22, 2022, Goshen, Indiana. S. S. Lindenwood Victory to China, December 19, 1946.

Neuhauser, James Groff, January 8, 2022, San Juan, Puerto Rico. S. S. Pierre Victory to Poland, March 29, 1946; S. S. Plymouth Victory to Poland, May 11, 1946.

Schwartz, Arthur Edward, January 10, 2022, Henderson, North Carolina. S. S. Zona Gale to Yugoslavia (docking in Trieste, Italy), June 28, 1945; S. S. Frontenac Victory to Poland, June 6, 1946.

Shenk, Ellis, December 28, 2021, Bel Air, Maryland. S. S. American Importer to West Germany with the Heifer Project, November 7, 1953.

Stuntz, Hayward W., February 17, 2022, Plymouth, Indiana. S. S. Joshua Hendy to Poland, December 8, 1945.

Swords, Gene G., March 13, 2022, Lititz, Pennsylvania. S. S. Rockland Victory to Czechoslovakia (docking in Bremen, Germany), June 14, 1946.

Rest in peace, dear seagoing friends.

War Bride Stowed Away on Livestock Ship

An undated newspaper clipping in the Heifer International archives carries this headline:

“Bride, Made Up as Negro Boy By Husband, Signed as Cattle Steward, Stows Across Atlantic”

The article, written by Harry P. Moore, appeared in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, circa early November, 1946.

At the end of World War II, when American troops moved into Poland, US Army Captain Paul K. Cowgill met and fell in love with a young Polish war widow, Katrinsyka Spicyk. Early in the war, the Germans killed her husband and forced her into slave labor. After meeting Captain Cowgill in 1945, the couple courted for a few months and were married. After Cowgill returned to the United States, they had a dilemma—how would they get Katrinsyka there? They were told it could take weeks or months for her to get accommodations on a passenger ship, and she wouldn’t be allowed on a freighter.

Their transportation problem was solved when Cowgill, now out of the Army, signed on to the S.S. Edward W. Burton which he knew was bound for Poland. The UNRRA ship departed from Newport News, Virginia, September 28, 1946, with a load of 810 horses.

The ship that carried Captain Cowgill to Poland, September 1946. Photo by Nelson Watts.

“On the way to Europe,” Cowgill told Moore, “I looked the ship over carefully and finally decided that a good hiding place would be a big ventilator that was used to supply air to the cattle in the ship’s hold.” He removed some “bolts and minor obstructions” and crawled into the space himself to test it out. It would work.

On arrival in Gdansk, he looked up his wife. Now the question was how to get her on the ship. He realized that the only dark-skinned people the Poles see are those who come on the crews of the US merchant ships. “It occurred to me that it would be just the thing to disguise my wife as a Negro boy,” he said. When they were ready to go, he blacked her face and they went down to the ship.

“She was carrying a few packages and I was ordering her about to make the guard on the pier believe we both belonged on the ship,” he said. The ruse worked and he was able to get her inside the ventilator without being seen. He took a blanket to her, and there she stayed for five days, eating what food he could bring her.

Once the ship was in the Atlantic Ocean, with no possibility of Katrinsyka being taken off ship in Europe and sent back to Poland, the couple turned themselves in to the Captain who questioned them separately. “The girl appeared frightened despite her black face,” he said. Satisfied that their stories matched, he decided to give them a break. He took their statements, made copies, and had them signed. When the Edward W. Burton arrived in Newport News, Captain Simmons accompanied Mr. & Mrs. Cowgill to Norfolk to straighten everything out with immigration and customs officials.

Photo from the Norfolk-Virginian Pilot.

“I am happy now,” Mrs. Cowgill said, “glad to be in America. It is such a fine place. Everybody laughs and I shall laugh, too.”

If my research is correct, the couple died just months apart in 2009 and 2010 and are buried side by side in Arlington National Cemetery, with Katrinsyka having changed her name to Anna Anita and her maiden name being Prosniak.

 

Ten young seagoing cowboys from Okanogan County, Washington, on an errand of mercy: Part IV

The story of the Okanogan County, Washington, seagoing cowboys concludes in this post with their departure from Poland*:

When it came time to leave on January 7, 1946,Yoder noted in his journal, “There didn’t seem to be any regrets with us on ship. It was a bit touching however to watch the natives all stop working, regardless of what, and passionately watch our big ships slowly turn around and then head out toward the Baltic. They all stood watching along the shore or several blocks inland as if paralyzed.”

On the dock, Nowy Port, Poland, January 1946. Photo credit: Nelson Schumacher.

A few of those natives made it onto the ship. “We had three or four stowaways on board,” Henneman recalls. “So I’d feed ’em. Took bottles of water down to ’em.” He gave his phone number to one who spoke good English. “I says, if you make it off ship, call me up and say, ‘I made it! I made it! I made it!’ I said, I’ll know what you’re talking about. A few months after that, he phoned me up and he says, ‘I made it!’ I often wondered what kind of a citizen he made. I bet he was a good one.”

Photo credit: Eli Beachy.

The ship returned to Houston, Texas, where the cowboys waited for their $150 checks from UNRRA before seeing some sights and heading back to school.

Yoder and two other cowboys took in the World Champion Rodeo and Texas Fat Stock Show, February 1, 1946. Yoder says in his diary, “Tex Ritter was there and The Lone Ranger and horse ‘Silver.'” Photo credit: Paul Bucher.

With the world opened up to them, these young cowboys came back to Tonasket with a mission. In a program for the local Lions Club, the boys described the conditions they had seen, the distress of people trying to resume their lives amidst the wreckage of war, and how the children were particularly vulnerable. The Tonasket Times summed up the tenor of their message about the people of Europe: “Their cry for help, which in this country is voiced through such organizations as the Lions Club should meet with a generous response by well fed, well clothed Americans, who have never had to endure in comparable degree the suffering that is the lot of Europe today.” A fitting statement that should make even J. O. Yoder proud of those boys.

Eight of the Tonasket, Washington, seagoing cowboys. Front, L to R: Gerald Vandiver, Dave Henneman, Johnny Woodard; Back, L to R: Jack Fancher, Kenneth Lorz, Bruce Pickens, Bill Dugan, Mark Bontrager. Photographer unknown.

* Excerpted from my article published in the Okanogan County Heritage magazine, Winter 2014.

 

Ten young seagoing cowboys from Okanogan County, Washington, on an errand of mercy: Part III

The story of the Okanogan County, Washington, seagoing cowboys continues with their sobering arrival in Danzig, Poland, on December 27, 1945*:

The Clarksville Victory approaches the pier in Nowy Port, Poland, December 27, 1945. Photo by J. O. Yoder.

In an unidentified newspaper article, 16-year-old Fancher said, “You have to see that country to believe it. Everyone is hungry . . . The children are in rags and most of them have not been to school since the war started. You walk down the streets and they run up to you, holding out their hands and begging for food.” One of the images that still remains in Fancher’s mind today is that of seeing people on the street cutting steaks off of one of the mares that died.

Children following the seagoing cowboys in Gdansk, Poland, January 1946. Photo by Nelson Schumacher.

Henneman recalls that their ship had apples from Tonasket. “The labels on the box tell you where they come from, and who packed it. Somebody we knew packed them. You knew their number.” In Poland, he carried apples off the ship under his jacket and handed them out to people. “I guess it was stealing,” he said, “but we had plenty. They didn’t have any.” He bought other items that he carried off the ship and gave to people. The guards, who would normally shake someone down they suspected of carrying things off, would let him pass because they knew he was giving everything away.

Dave Henneman shares a story from J. O. Yoder’s book about their trip with Peggy Reiff Miller in 2014 interview. Photo by Sandra Brightbill.

Cigarettes were the prime black market commodity, and other cowboys learned they could buy cigarettes cheaply in the ship’s store and trade them for souvenirs. Or they could trade their dollars for Zloties to make their purchases. Dugan was able to obtain a violin which he still has and which he played for dances after he got home. Fancher brought home a little wooden box with a hand-carved lid.

Entertainment options in Danzig were slim. Dugan remembers visiting battlefields with ammunition and the bodies of unburied German soldiers still lying around. “Danzig is like some old Wild West town,” Fancher said in his newspaper interview. “It is full of Russian, Polish and British soldiers, and all the civilians carry guns–pistols, rifles or tommy-guns. There are a lot of shooting scrapes. Two English and four Russians were killed during the 14 days we were there, and some of our boys were held up and robbed of cigarets [sic] and American money.”

Exploring a battlefield near the docks in Poland, January 1946. Photo by Nelson Schumacher.

Fancher and John Woodard told the reporter, “one sight in Danzig was three times as horrible as the worst Boris Karloff movie.” Woodard explained, “That was the [building] the Germans used for human medical experiments. They showed us thru it . . . it was terrible. There were human bones all about, human skin that had been tanned, soap made from human fat . . . the smell was sickening . . . there were two petrified bodies . . .” The experience is one the cowboys do not like to talk about today. Their crew was one of only a few that were taken through the facility before it was put off limits.

Photo by Clarksville Victory fellow cowboy Eli Beachy, January 1946.

(to be continued)

* Excerpted from my article published in the Okanogan County Heritage magazine, Winter 2014.

Ten young seagoing cowboys from Okanogan County, Washington, on an errand of mercy: Part II

The story of the Okanogan County, Washington, seagoing cowboys continues*:

Bushy Pier, Brooklyn, New York, December 1945. Photo by J. O. Yoder.

[December 4, 1945,] the crew of 32 cowboys boarded the SS Clarksville Victory at Bushy Pier No. 1 in Brooklyn. Problems in getting the horses to the ship gave the crew eight days of relative leisure to explore the wonders of New York City. The cowboys also got to watch the loading of the ship. Bill Dugan recalls that the 742 horses were loaded one by one. Some were lifted by a large strap put around the body, others in wooden crates, to be lowered into the holds of the ship. One horse got away, taking a swim in the New York harbor, eventually getting out at another pier and being brought back to ship.

On a cold Wednesday, December 12, the Clarksville Victory finally headed out into the Atlantic. The first night out, in [supervisor J. O.] Yoder’s words, the sea was “a swirling mass of boiling tar. It is one continuous up-heaving body—full of vales and knolls.” The result: “At least 15 or 20 fellows fed the fish and were consequently quite useless.” Dave Henneman recalls being seasick that first day, but fine after that. Dugan and Jick Fancher were two of the lucky ones who never got sick.

The rolling Atlantic Ocean, December 1945. Photo by J. O. Yoder.

The crew settled into the work and rhythm of watering and feeding the horses, which Fancher says were all types and of all dispositions. Henneman recalls, “There was one big old horse, he was kind of ornery. He got a hold of my coat one day and picked me right up off my feet.” Henneman’s experience with horses soon brought horse and tender to an understanding for the remainder of the trip.

The Clarksville Victory was one of the Victory ships built in mass during the war to transport supplies and troops. An article in the Tonasket Times said, “The boys thought a lot of their ship, which seemed well built. . . . Their bunks, arranged in three tiers were in the gunners quarters, only instead of having guns to tend and possibly an enemy to fire on, as did the former crew, our lads were on an errand of mercy.”

The ship that carried the Okanogan County cowboys to Poland, December 1945. Photo by Paul Bucher.

Their ship served them well when they ran into a storm that Gerald Vandiver told the Spokane Daily Chronicle “put two cruisers, an aircraft carrier and three merchant ships in dry dock, but our ship, the Clarksville Victory, suffered no ill effects. However, some of the horses were thrown down and were unable to get up. Fifty horses died on the trip, most of them as a result of the storm.” Of the rough sailing, Dugan recalls, “We were kids yet, and we didn’t have sense enough to be afraid. Four more degrees [of roll] and the ship wouldn’t have come up.”

The route of the Clarksville Victory took the Washington boys up through the English Channel, past the White Cliffs of Dover, and through the Kiel Canal to the Baltic Sea.

A ferry crosses the Kiel Canal ahead of the Clarksville Victory, December, 1945. Photo by Paul Bucher.

They spent Christmas Day anchored in the harbor at Kiel, Germany, where they got their first real taste of war aftermath. Kiel, an industrial center for submarine building, was heavily bombed during the war. Fancher described the harbor as “just a bunch of ship stacks sticking up.”

Dave Henneman in a 2014 interview with Peggy Reiff Miller. Photo by Sandy Brightbill.

Their arrival in Danzig, Poland, on December 27 was equally as sobering.

(to be continued)

* Excerpted from my article published in the Okanogan County Heritage magazine, Winter 2014.

 

Ten young seagoing cowboys from Okanogan County, Washington, on an errand of mercy: Part I

The texts for this post and the three to follow are excerpts from an article I wrote for the Okanogan County Heritage magazine for their Winter 2014 issue. In 1945, a Church of the Brethren representative went to the Tonasket, Washington, high school to ask for volunteers to serve as seagoing cowboys. This is their story:

Ten young men responded to the call, most of them students: Mark Bontrager, Jack (Jick) Fancher, Junior Hawkins, Kenneth Lorz, Charles Merrill, Bruce Picken, and Gerald Vandiver of Tonasket, William Dugan and John Woodard of Loomis, and Dave Henneman of Oroville. At the ripe age of 18, Bontrager, the son of a local Church of the Brethren pastor, was selected as leader of the group.

Bill Dugan recalls their adventure started with a trip to the Smith Tower in Seattle to obtain their seaman’s cards, as all seagoing cowboys had to join the Merchant Marines in order to work on a ship. The week of Thanksgiving, the boys departed for the East coast on the Empire Builder from Wenatchee. Two older Wenatchee gentlemen, Clayton Robinson and W. A. Holland, accompanied them.

From the album of Mark Bontrager.

The long train trek across the country was broken up by a stop in Chicago. Jick Fancher recalls, “My sister had a friend there who came and got us and took us to Thanksgiving dinner,” a bright spot in the trip for him after having his billfold stolen on the train with all his cash and cashier’s checks in it. He got the cashier’s checks back, but none of the cash. Dugan recalls getting meals in Chicago at the maritime service and eating dollar box lunches sold on the train.

From Chicago, the group took a train to Baltimore, Maryland. J. O. Yoder of Goshen, Indiana, cowboy supervisor for the boys’ trip, noted in his journal: “The entire group of 12 Washington state kids got on train at Balti [sic] for New Windsor! A pretty young and careless bunch.” Yoder obviously had not yet identified two the group as adults.

The Brethren Service Center in New Windsor served as home base for the group while they awaited their orders. They had time to travel to Washington, D.C., where they explored the nation’s Capitol and met their Representative to Congress, Walt Horan, who showed them around.

From the album of Mark Bontrager.

In the meantime, crews were being put together by the seagoing cowboy office for a shipment out of Portland, Maine, and another out of New York City. The Monday after Thanksgiving, November 26, Yoder recorded in his journal: “Looks like the Washington fellows will be on my boat—much to my chagrin.”

Clayton Robinson became Yoder’s roommate at New Windsor, and Yoder recommended him to be crew leader. But as fate would have it, a seagoing cowboy freshly returned from the first UNRRA cattle boat trip to Poland showed up at the Center. He spoke to the new cowboys after dinner and “Told of all the gory sights seen in Poland and of the hair-raising ride in stormy seas,” Yoder said, after which, “Mr. Robinson and Mr. Holland, leaders of the Washington group, decided tonight to go back home—leaving the boys without leaders! Worried me aplenty as that bunch shan’t be without someone to crack down on them.” Yoder appealed to the leaders of the program, “either the kids would have to go back to Washington, too, or Mr. Robinson stay! Well, the result is that it looks as if they will all stay and go Monday.”

Monday morning, bright and early, the group boarded the train for New York City where they stayed at the Seaman’s Church Institute. The next day Yoder notes, “Robinson and Holland have decided to quit and go home. Could tell they were extremely blue, homesick and bewildered. . . . so I was left without a crew leader. This whole mess made me a bit discouraged at the time.” But it must have turned out okay, as Yoder makes no further mention of the Washington boys in a negative light. They came from farm or ranch backgrounds and evidently proved themselves to Yoder by their hard work on the ship.

Myself and Bill Dugan after interviewing him in 2014.

(to be continued)

On being seasick

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines seasickness as “motion sickness experienced on the water.” Some say it’s “all in the head.” Many a seagoing cowboy would disagree. Here are two accounts:

Cowboy Merle Crouse, from our last post, painted this colorful description of what it was like to be a seagoing cowboy in his short address at Heifer International’s 70th anniversary kickoff in Little Rock, Arkansas, in March 2014. He opened with this paragraph:

If you like to feed dusty hay to confused cows who are sliding around on a layer of fresh manure that has greased a floor that is rocking 4 ways at once from 40 foot North Atlantic waves while you are so seasick that you don’t have anything left in your stomach to throw up and you almost wish you were dead and you almost wish you had stayed home on the farm instead of volunteering to be completely miserable, then, welcome to the experience of being a seagoing cowboy.

Seagoing cowboys en route to Italy in 1946 try to get their sea legs. Photo by Elmer Bowers.

John Brelsford served as a seagoing cowboy on the S. S. Rock Springs Victory delivering cattle to Ethiopia in March 1947. He says, “I can’t write about this crossing without trying to describe seasickness.” He continues:

Ten minutes after we left the pier, I began to be sick. I didn’t know what was the matter then, but by the middle of the next day I knew well enough. I get a headache that seems to settle in the back of my neck, have a very upset stomach, and feel cold all over. The night we sailed, I went to bed right away to try and get warm and get over my headache. The next morning I didn’t feel like eating and my headache was worse. I ate an orange to see how food would stay down. It stayed pretty well, so I went to breakfast. After I had been there a little while, the whole place seemed to make me sick, so I grabbed a half grapefruit and beat it. I don’t suppose that it was five minutes later that I decided to see if the orange and grapefruit tasted as good as I thought they did, so I brought them back up. . . . Well, I tried to go about my business of feeding and watering a third of the 84 head of heifers that we had on our end of the top deck, but every once in awhile I’d give up and stick my head over the side of the ship or over a bucket. . . . It was surprising what it would take to set you going. Sometimes, it was looking up and seeing somebody else going through the motions. Sometimes, it was the look on the face of a cow. Sometimes it was listening to someone tell how just as they got through eating they leaned over and deposited their dinner in some lucky fellows lap and then settled back down and ate another plateful. Sometimes it was just looking at the paleness or yellowness and the pained expression on the faces of the fellows around most anywhere. To say the least, I was worn out by night just from bending over the ship and working my diaphragm muscles so much. I had decided never to eat again when Carl Geisler talked me into testing a pork chop that he was eating out in the fresh air. He strongly suggested that I do the same thing, so I finally consented and went into the galley and ordered a plate to go out. I went back out and stuck my head in every few minutes until my plate was ready. It had a couple of pork chops and three slices of bread. I very carefully discarded all the fat and bones and wrapped up the small pieces of meat in the bread and rather slowly ate them. After the first bite hit my stomach, I felt better. I have been eating ever since. . . .

There were all sorts of different ideas as to the causes and remedies. . . . I’m sure that if doctors and sailors haven’t been able to figure out either the cause or the cure in all the years that men have been sailing the seven seas, there isn’t much use of first time sailors trying to figure it out. But figure we would. For three or so days that was all anybody talked about. All I’m sure of is that we all got sick and that we all got over it in spite of the cause or treatment.

Two of John Brelsford’s shipmates hanging over the rail. Photo by Howard Lord.

Read more about cowboys and seasickness here.

A Heifer Project cowboy writes home about the good and the bad

After UNRRA disbanded in early 1947, the Heifer Project continued, shipping on a more limited scale. Many of the cowboys used these Heifer Project trips as their transportation to Europe for volunteer or work assignments. Merle Crouse was one of those young men, sailing to Germany in November 1952 to his Brethren Volunteer Service project.

Photo courtesy of Merle Crouse.

He recounted his trip with two fellow cowboys to his parents in a letter from Germany:

“We finally left New York harbor on the night of the 22nd on the American Traveler with our 63 cows including Green Hill and Easton’s, a bunch of shelled corn, and scads of Rockingham County (Va.) frozen broilers. Between the cows and the Rockingham fried (potential) chicken, I felt at home with the cargo at least. In the morning of that day we had run around in big shoddy New York to the German consulate on 42nd Avenue (in overalls) where we got German visas stamped into our passports. Getting our passport and visas were our only red tape since cowboys no longer need seaman’s papers as they are now considered as passengers rather than crew.

A sister ship of the S. S. American Traveler, also used for Heifer Project shipments to Germany. Photo courtesy of Russell Miller.

“. . . Our setup was such that we all divided the cows into 3 sections with each of us in charge of our own bunch. I named all mine—Mitsy (the only one milking, left her calf in U.S.), Salty, Malty, Sleet, Fog, Polly, Molly (a beautiful purebred Jersey which produced our only calf the day before we got in port), Fransosisch (Deutsch for French—she had a sneaky French personality), Maw (La Pierre), Gertie, Edy (pantry girl at La Pierre), Tonto (lone Ranger’s Indian), Parvin (Parvin Biddle from grammar school), Ada (the Ayrshire), Trigonometry, Futility, Temptation, Baldy (had a white topknot) and Mamie (Ike’s wife). The other fellows only named a couple of theirs.”

All three of the cowboys were experienced farmhands. The Heifer Project shipments generally did not have a veterinarian on board like the UNRRA shipments had, so the cowboys were left to their own devices. Crouse describes the difficulties they had with a cow in labor:

“She didn’t appear to be near freshening so we let her go until the following morning we went down and found her bearing a calf which was huge and dead. We tried to help her for an hour but got only the head out so we went up to see the officers as instructed if emergencies arise. The purser (a surgeon-general in the Navy) was afraid to apply his medical knowledge to cows but was ready to do any thing we said, the first mate was our contact man with the captain who said that we could use anything on the boat, but try to save the cow. None of them could offer any knowledge aid, so the 1st mate got the boatswain and 3 crewmen to come with block and fall and we pulled so hard that the cow was dragged out of her stall and nearly choked because we had her head tied on the other end. Dudley and I searched intensely to see if we could relieve the point of friction which was at the pelvic bones of the cow. Here the calf’s front legs were folded wrong and was too much to get thru the space naturally provided. Pulling was no answer so, after a conference we decided to try to keep her living in that condition until we hit port at Bremerhaven, Germany and a veterinarian. . . . We had 36 hours to wait before we hit port and the cow died 32 hours later at 4 A.M. tho she seemed well at 11 P.M. We hated to lose her but could do nothing else for her.”

The cow wasn’t all they lost, however. “We made a mistake by leaving our boots as usual in the hold with the cows when they took her out at Bremerhaven, since a thief (probably German longshoreman) stole my good old 5-buckle artics and left me bootless. . . . I now trust no one with anything.”

 

Cattle tender histories intertwine

The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration’s livestock program is thought by some to be the largest effort of shipping animals overseas in world history. In the two years between June 1945 and April 1947, they had shipped a total of 369,048 draft and food-producing animals from the Western Hemisphere to Europe and a few other locations to help countries recover from World War II. This included, by UNRRA’s count, 174,202 horses, 28,976 mules, 36,199 cattle, and 129,671 other types of farm animals to Europe and a few other countries. There was another time in history, however, which out-paced UNRRA’s efforts – the difference between the two being that UNRRA’s mission helped heal the wounds of war, the other helped create them.

UNRRA heifers ready to ship out of Newport News, Virginia, June 1946. Photo: Lyle Chambers

Three decades before UNRRA’s “seagoing cowboys” came into being, cattle tenders would have been required to care for the hundreds of thousands of horses and mules shipped from the United States to serve as beasts of burden and transport in World War I. According to the International Museum of the Horse, “In the four years of the war, the United States exported nearly a million horses to Europe. This seriously depleted the number of horses in America. When the American Expeditionary Force entered the war, it took with it an additional 182,000 horses. Of these, 60,000 were killed and only a scant 200 were returned to the United States. In spite of the innovations of World War I, one reality remained the same; the horse was the innocent victim.”

World War I war horses. Signal Corps photo.

Large numbers of mules also found themselves on ships to Europe. The United States World War One Centennial Commission  notes, “The 1922 British War Office report on statistics of the Great War states that 275,097 mules were purchased from North America.” One large Missouri firm, Guyton and Harrington, contracted with the British army for horses and mules. According to author Michael Price, they alone “sold 180,000 mules to the British army from 1914-1918. . . . They also sold 170,000 horses to the British.”

Mule at use in World War II. Photo: Army Pictorial Service.

Some of the horses and mules used by the U. S. Army were bred and trained at the Army Quartermaster Remount Depot at Fort Reno in Oklahoma. When World War II rolled around with its advances in war machinery, horses and mules were no longer needed to the extent they were in World War I. After being decommissioned in 1948, the depot at Fort Reno was reactivated in 1952 to prepare horses and mules for export to Turkey. One of UNRRA’s former livestock ships, the S. S. Calvin Victory, now decommissioned and renamed the S. S. Columbia Heights, became the transport vehicle to take the animals across the ocean.

Todd Blomerth tells the story on his blog “Todd’s Historical Writings” of one of the young Army officers, William Pharr “Billy” Stromberg, involved with three of these shipments to Turkey. The Columbia Heights was in use during that same time period for the Levinson Brothers livestock trips to Israel which carried many a Mennonite seagoing cowboy to the Holy Lands. Interesting how histories intertwine!

Mennonite seagoing cowboys on the S. S. Columbia Heights, June 1951. Photo courtesy of Virgil Stoltzfus.