The three Brethren mavericks behind the Heifer Project and the Seagoing Cowboys

In 1945, the Brethren Service Committee of the Church of the Brethren (BSC) and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) came together to create the seagoing cowboy program. Three Brethren mavericks made it happen.

Dan West (1893-1971) – The Visionary

Dan West. Photo credit: Kermon Thomasson

Drafted into the Army as a conscientious objector in May of 1918, Dan West came out of World War I with the lifelong goal of doing as much for peace as a soldier does for war. Two decades later, in his position as Peace Representative for the Church of the Brethren, he was sent to Spain at the invitation of the Quakers to provide relief to those suffering from the Spanish Civil War. Observing children dying from a shortage of powdered milk, he thought of his own little girl at home. “This idea struck me hard,” he said. “Suppose we were unable to provide plenty of food for her right now. I was suddenly determined to do something for these children.” That “something” was his idea of sending cows to Spain so the people would be able to feed themselves.

West promoted this idea relentlessly after coming home in early 1938. Finally, in 1942, the Church of the Brethren District Men’s Work of Northern Indiana took hold of the vision and set up a committee to make it happen. Shortly after that the Brethren Service Committee adopted it as a national program which they chartered in January 1943 as “The Heifer Project.” West served as secretary of HPC for many years, continuing to provide his vision for the evolving organization.

M. R. Zigler (1891-1985) – The Promoter

M. R. Zigler in his Geneva, Switzerland, office, circa 1951. From the Guest book of Gerry and Bernice Pence.

A contemporary of Dan West, M. R. Zigler shared West’s passion for peace. Brethren historian Donald Durnbaugh referred to Zigler as “the soul of the Brethren Service story.” Zigler started his service to the denomination in 1919 and in 1934 was named to head up the Board of Christian Education which was in charge of the church’s responsibilities for peace concerns. Both West and Zigler worked tirelessly together on peace issues as rumblings of war grew stronger and stronger in the 1930s. They pushed for the creation of a Brethren Service Committee to be ready for postwar relief. Started in 1939, BSC became a chartered board of the denomination in 1941 with Zigler as its Executive Secretary. His bold and loving personality inspired and influenced people to give of themselves and their resources, and he became a great promoter of the Heifer Project. As such, he convinced UNRRA, which had not been planning to include livestock in their relief shipments, to ship the Heifer Project cattle. A trial shipment of purebred bulls to Greece was set up, introducing Maverick #3 to the picture.

Benjamin G. Bushong (1898-1965) – The Tireless Administrator

Benjamin G. Bushong. Photo courtesy of Mark Bushong.

A longtime friend of West, Pennsylvania dairy farmer and Guernsey breeder Benjamin Bushong was called upon to find the bulls. With the success of that shipment, UNRRA decided to include live animals in their agricultural rehabilitation shipments. They called on Zigler for help in finding the men to tend their animals on board for a few shipments. Zigler, in turn, put out the word for livestock attendants and drafted Bushong at the June 3, 1945, HPC meeting to go to Washington to oversee the process. Before long, BSC had signed an agreement with UNRRA to provide the estimated 8,000 livestock attendants UNRRA would need for their planned shipments of 200,000 animals. The “seagoing cowboy” program was born, with Bushong, the tireless red-tape cutter and organizer, at the helm. After serving on a volunteer basis for a number of months, he became Heifer Project’s first full-time salaried Executive Secretary in January 1946.

In his biography of M. R. Zigler, Pragmatic Prophet, Don Durnbaugh states,

“No doubt it took the qualities of all three leaders to make the Heifer Project what it became—the visionary Dan West, the promoter M. R. Zigler, and the tireless administrator Ben Bushong. Added to their talents, of course, were the contributions of countless thousands of donors, seagoing attendants, fund raisers, and the rest.”

 

Hats Off to Archivists!

I just learned recently that October is American Archives Month. I’m interrupting my stories on seagoing cowboys today to take my hat off to the many archivists who have helped me gather my own archives of historical materials from which I write this blog.

Over the past nearly twenty years, I’ve been traveling around the country gathering materials from archives and individuals to document this little-known history of UNRRA’s and Heifer International’s seagoing cowboys. And what a rich history it is! I could not be telling it without access to the gems of primary source materials which I have found in the archives I’ve visited.

Searching through Heifer International historical materials at Vital Records Control, Maumelle, AR, 2011. Photo credit: Rex Miller

Kudos to the many archivists who have assisted me at:

  • The Brethren Historical Library and Archives [BHLA] in Elgin, Illinois – home of the historical materials of Heifer International founder Dan West and the many Brethren leaders and organizations that helped usher in the Heifer Project. A special tip of the hat to the late Ken Shaffer and the recently retired archivist Bill Kostlevy.
  • The United Nations Archives and Record Management Section in New York City – home of the archived materials of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration [UNRRA], a precursor to the UN.
  • The Manchester University Archives – home of alumni seagoing cowboy records and Brethren history. Kudos to archivist Jeanine Wine.
  • The Mennonite Church USA Archives when they were located at Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana – home of records of Mennonite seagoing cowboys. My thanks to former archivist Dennis Stoesz.
  • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Wilson Library – home of the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen records.
  • And last, but not least, the many staff members of Heifer International who have been caretakers of Heifer International’s historical materials while they were located at Vital Records Control in Maumelle, Arkansas, and are now located at Heifer’s headquarters in Little Rock. May these precious materials one day find a dedicated archival home. Many, many thanks to retired staffer Kathy Moore, herself a seagoing cowgirl, for her organization of Heifer’s historical materials before I started my research. You made my search for relevant documents ever so much easier than it would have been.

    Kathy Moore receiving Heifer International’s “Make a Difference Award” during their 70th anniversary celebration, March 2014.

“Archivists bring the past to the present. They’re records collectors and protectors, keepers of memory. They organize unique, historical materials, making them available for current and future research.”
— Lisa Lewis for the Society of American Archivists

Thank you to archivists everywhere who help us navigate the present by understanding the past.

S. S. Humanitas vignettes from a report by Milford Lady, Part III: Reflections on war and peace

This past Tuesday was the International Day of Peace, so it’s fitting to conclude Milford Lady’s vignettes with his reflections on entering the Mediterranean Sea in both wartime and peacetime.

9:00 [P.M.] – Dec. 17 [1947]
Tomorrow we will enter the Mediterranean Sea. This gives me a strange feeling. It takes me back to the year 1943 to the first time I entered the Mediterranean on June 6th. (My mother’s birthday). We left Bizerta, North Africa, with a liberty ship loaded with 200 Army men, with their equipment, guns, ammunition, trucks, etc. – bound for Malta. This was before Italy stopped fighting, and these men were to protect our invasion forces while they invaded Sicily. At 5:00 P.M. we were attacked by both German and Italian planes. We were bombed continually for 8 hours. I was on watch from 8-12 in the engine room during this time. We suffered a near miss which landed right off our starboard side, flooding our ship, shifting all our cargo to the port side and knocked out all our lights. I will never forget my feeling as I stood there about 20 feet underneath the surface of the ocean in total darkness, sure that we were seriously hit, awaiting my orders to abandon ship, not sure that I would ever see light again. At that time, I was helping transport death and destruction to Sicily and Italy.

Tonight I have a feeling of happiness. Tomorrow when we enter the Mediterranean I will be helping to transport life and hope to the people of Italy. I feel that in a small way, I am now helping in the greatest job in the world, that of building world peace. The terrible mistake of the second World War cannot be compensated for. However, I feel that it is organizations like the H.P. C. [Heifer Project Committee] that will in time prove to the world that the only way to lasting peace is through Christianity– abiding by the Golden Rule following the example of Christ.

I find it hard to believe that it was people exactly like this Italian crew (in fact it is possible that even a member of this crew) were the same ones who were trying to take my life and all others aboard our ship in 1943. I am sure that they look at us and wonder how fellows like us dropped bombs on their country and almost completely destroyed it. We are working together now for a common cause, which makes us great friends. Surely this is a step in the right direction.

Perhaps one of the main reasons I love the sea is because out here we are governed by the international law. If a ship is disabled at sea the nearest ship will come to its aid whether it be Russian, German, or Italian, or any other nationality. The nearest ship will come to help at top speed. Why can’t we work together the same way as nations.

S. S. Humanitas vignettes from a report by Milford Lady, Part II: Beware the bull!

Today’s story continues seagoing cowboy Milford lady’s account of his stormy trip to Italy in December 1947. Unfortunately, I have no pictures from this trip.

10:00 [P.M.] – Dec. 13
This is the 10th day at sea, and there hasn’t been one day that we haven’t been taking seas over the sides. It seems the heifers are always wet. Last night she was shipping so much water that several of our stalls were filled with water. The cattle were standing ankle-deep in water, and very dirty, so today we took forks and shovels and cleaned out the wet stalls, and rebedded them. . . .

We are getting excellent cooperation from the Italian crew, much better I am sure than if we were sailing on an American Union ship. They helped us build the new stalls. Today while cleaning the stalls, we tossed the manure into the alley-ways, and they tossed it over the side. The morning following the storm they were all on deck helping us free the cattle. They are continually shifting the canvas trying to keep our feed dry. . . .

Today in order to make room for [the] latest fresh heifer, we decided to move a large Holstein bull from aft to forward with the other bull who is tied between the winches under a canvas. After the crash the other night we decided to untie all the animals. Consequently, the bull was untied. Joe and I got into the stall to get a rope around his neck, but he didn’t like the idea, and proceeded to jump over the boards dividing the stalls, landing on two heifers. The heifers moved away letting him drop head first down in the stall with his hind parts in his original stall, draped over the dividing boards. We put the rope around his neck while he was helpless, then took a couple of turns around a post to hold him. Then [we] went around and heaved his hind parts over. He got up charging this way and that, until I thought he would pull the stalls over. After he had settled a little, by popular vote of looks, I was elected to lead him forward. There was always plenty of slack in the rope, and we really moved, so it is a matter of opinion whether I led him or he chased me. Anyway, he is now tied forward. I am going to keep my distance when I feed him tomorrow.

9:00 [P.M.] Dec. 17
Today the 6 cowboys, the skipper, and the passengers all went forward, took 5 heifers, one bull and 6 calves out of their stalls, and took a number of pictures. I took charge of the bull. We kissed and made up after our little difficulty the other day, and are now good friends.

Next post: Reflections on war and peace

S. S. Humanitas vignettes from a report by Milford Lady, Part I: Surviving the storm

Seagoing cowboy Milford Lady wrote a detailed day-by-day report for the Heifer Project office of his December 1947 trip on the Italian ship S. S. Humanitas. His account illustrates one of the dangers cowboys faced on the high seas, adding to a previous post about the storm the Humanitas encountered on its third day out:

5:00 A.M. – Dec. 6
Our hopes for a trip with no loss are now shattered. . . . [B]etween 3:00 and 3:30 A.M., a sea came over the starboard side forward with such force, that the stalls went crashing to the deck, trapping the cattle underneath. We all dressed and ran up on the bridge. We talked to the Captain, then he slowed the speed of the ship, changed her course, so the seas would not break so high and turned on the cargo lights, so we could work on deck. We tryed [sic] to cut some of the cattle loose. We released only three heifers when the wind got so strong that when Tassel raised up from working with one of the heifers, the wind hit him and knocked him back about 10 ft. We were all wet through and through and trying desperately to hang on to something, and keep clear of the long seas. Then the captain ordered us back inside. I was the last one. . .with Tassel just ahead of me. We took it slow, staying in the shelter of the stalls, but we had a short distance to go to the ladder with no protection from the wind. Tassel walked around the corner of the stalls, and the wind hit him with such force that it blew him back against me so hard that both of us were blown back against the bulkhead. I was hanging on to a cable for all I was worth trying to hold a light on the ladder. It was all we could do to get up the ladder with me pushing him and he pulling up. . . . [Lady later learned the storm they were in had winds of 75-80 miles per hour.]

At present time I am in bed writing this letter with a heavy heart. The cattle are on deck with a pile of lumber on them. . . . We can do nothing until it gets light enough to protect ourselves. The heifers we cut loose are out on deck sliding back and forth trying to stay on their feet. They are not seriously injured. Perhaps we can save a number of them. . .

8:30 p.m.
My thoughts were the thoughts of 5 other cowboys when we looked at the cattle trapped and bleeding under a mass of wreckage this morning. We thought that at least half of them would be dead, but by some miracle, there is only one dead now. . . . Many of the cattle have deep cuts and bruises. They will require a lot of attention to keep them alive.

Sunday – Dec. 7
Last night it was too dangerous to make our rounds on deck. Yesterday a big sea broke over the side and swept the first officer over against the hatch, and injured his leg. He is still in bed. His leg is not broken. The second officer also has a badly sprained ankle as a result of the rough sea.

Today . . . we are trying to shift the heifers around so as to give them the best available shelter. . . . Sometime when you are bored and want some excitement, try leading a milk Holstein heifer from bow to stern of a liberty ship with the seas breaking over both sides, ducking around cables, chocks, cleats, and numerous other things found on ships’ decks, the deck very slippery and ship rolling about 30%, with the heifer falling down about every 20 ft. pulling you down with her. It’s a toss-up to see who gets up first, you or the heifer.

Next post: Beware the bull!

A seagoing cowboy’s impressions of 1947 Japan

All eyes have been on Japan this past weekend with the closing of the Olympics, bookended by the anniversaries of the American bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. An event embracing the peaceful coming together of athletes from nations around the world took place in the backyard of the sites of the most horrific destruction ever to be waged on another country. Today’s post steps back in time for a look at a significant goodwill gesture in 1947 to this former World War II enemy—a shipment of 25 purebred Holstein bulls made by the Heifer Project to help the war-diminished Japanese dairy industry rebuild and nudge Japan and the United States forward on a path to peace.

Martin Strate, at that time a Heifer Project staff assistant, was one of three seagoing cowboys who accompanied the bulls to their new homes in April 1947. A few months after returning home, he wrote up his “Opinions and Impressions of Japan.” He said, “Prior to 1940, the Japanese were recognized as one of the better importers of U. S. Holstein cattle.” He noted that the war had reduced the number of dairy cattle there by 40% and this shipment would help with rehabilitation of their herds.

Seagoing cowboy Norman Hostetler holds one of the Heifer Project bulls for inspection on the S. S. Alfred I. duPont after arriving in Japan, May 9, 1947. Photo courtesy of Norman Hostetler.

“The animals were allocated and distributed to sixteen national and prefectural livestock breeding stations throughout Japan,” Strate says. “With the cooperation of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, we made arrangements to visit and inspect these governmental farms. The purpose of this travel was not only to inspect and advise, but also to interpret to the Japanese the desire for peace and understanding among people throughout the world and that this gift to them came as an expression of brotherly love and practical Christianity. . . . That any group within a former ‘enemy’ country should make a forthright contribution to them was beyond their comprehension.”

After a 10-day quarantine for the animals, the Japanese government held a formal ceremony for the presentation of the bulls.

Martin Strate, fourth from the right, stands between Japanese Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Kimura and Governor Uchiyama of Kanagawa Prefecture following the ceremony, May 19, 1947. Photo courtesy of Norman Hostetler.

“This memorable occasion was only the first inning of a rich game of new experiences and warm fellowship,” says Strate. “Every day in Japan brought something new and interesting. There was never a dull moment from Hokkaido to Kyushu—the Maine-to-Florida idea in Japan. We were cordially received everywhere by the government officials, many of whom were Christians.”

The three cowboys at a banquet given for them at the Shizuika Governmental Livestock Farm. Photo courtesy of Norman Hostetler.

Among the “stimulating experiences” Strate mentions was having tea with the Mayor of Hiroshima. “We talked with him more than an hour about his reconstruction plans for the city, current attitudes of Hiroshima residents, the material and spiritual damage of the Atomic Bomb, and the Annual Peace Festival which was being held for its initial time on the anniversary of the A-bomb; another courageous display of faith in the future, and their ambitious desire to help accomplish what so often seems only a dream today.”

View from the top of Hiroshima’s City Hall located about 1/2 mile from where the A-bomb was dropped. June 1947. “The city is gradually being rebuilt,” Hostetler says. “They say this was all fine homes at one time.” Photo courtesy of Norman Hostetler.

Strate concludes, “I thank God that this privilege of visiting Japan was granted to me, that I might be an ambassador of the peace-loving forces in America toward helping to strengthen the common bonds between us. Through this gift of dairy cattle, the concerned people of our country will help build and develop harmonious and prosperous relationships by such a display of Brotherly Love.”

Brethren Service Committee brochure announcing a contest for the best ideas for “concrete, workable plans” in their post-World War II Campaign for Peace Action.

In Memorium

Another Fifth Friday has rolled around, and it’s time to remember seagoing cowboys who have recently passed from us.

Birkey, Robert “Bob” N., June 21, 2021, Bremen, Indiana. S. S. Woodstock Victory to Poland, June 7, 1946.

Dugan, William, September 26, 2020, formerly of Loomis, Washington. S. S. Clarksville Victory to Poland, December 2, 1945.

Fancher, John “Jick” T., June 14, 2021, Quincy, Washington. S. S. Clarksville Victory to Poland, December 2, 1945.

Frantz, Kenneth, May 29, 2021, North Manchester, Indiana. S. S. F. J. Luckenbach to Greece, June 22, 1945.

Hershberger, Roman E., July 5, 2021, Goshen, Indiana. S. S. Virginian to Poland, January 4, 1946.

Messner, Raymond Jacob, April 27, 2021, Muhlenberg, Pennsylvania. S. S. Beloit Victory to Czechoslovakia (docking in Bremen, Germany), June 8, 1946; S. S. Woodstock Victory to Poland, July 22, 1946.

Martin, John Richard, March 23, 2021, Harrisonburg, Virginia. S. S. Pass Christian Victory to Israel, November 1949. (Levinson Brothers shipment)

Metzler, Edgar J., May 12, 2021, Goshen, Indiana. S. S. Stephen R. Mallory to Poland, June 20, 1946.

Miller, Thomas H., May 13, 2021, Middlebury, Indiana. S. S. Plymouth Victory to Greece, February 13, 1947.

Schlabach, Theron F., May 13, 2021, Goshen, Indiana. S. S. Columbia Heights Victory to Israel, June 1951. (Levinson Brothers shipment)

Schmidt, Hartzel W., July 1, 2021, North Newton, Kansas. S. S. Morgantown Victory to Yugoslavia (docking in Trieste, Italy), December 2, 1946.

Rest in peace, dear seagoing friends.

 

A Seagoing Cowboy meditation on war

I recently came across this September 13, 1947, Gospel Messenger editorial by Desmond W. Bittinger in my research and asked for permission to reprint it here. The image was not a part of the original editorial.

Why Do You Hate Us So?

The seagoing cowboy walked sadly through the rubble of a devastated European city. A child with dwarfed body and twisted limbs and with the lined features of an old man followed afar off. Every time the cowboy waited for him he hid behind the walls of debris which lined the street.

The ruins of Gdansk, Poland, April 1946. Photo courtesy of Paul M. Martin

Finally the cowboy sat down in the rubble and looked about him. Near by were the forsaken ruins of a church. Across the street from it were the foundations of homes, but they were fire-scarred and heaped full of fallen bricks and timber. Here and there appeared broken fire hydrants and the evidences of exploded gas mains. As he rested the child sidled up nearer. It was evident that he was examining the American with unusual curiosity.

Finally, very much to the surprise of the American, he asked in English, “Why do you hate us so?”

“We don’t hate you,” the American replied quickly. “I just came over from America to bring cattle to you so that you could have milk to drink. On other ships we have sent you shoes and clothing. Little children in America save their pennies to send them to you. You are mistaken,” he said almost pleadingly. “We don’t hate you. We want you to grow up to be big and strong.”

The lad listened carefully as if trying to understand every word. Then waving his hand inclusively over the broken city he said, “I used to live here. This is my home. Didn’t you do this?”

And the cowboy hung his head. In imagination he saw this boy’s family. Half a dozen of them were here then. This was their church; over there was their home. Around the corner was their school. These streets were clean then. The walks leading up to the houses were always scrubbed; flowers bloomed in their yard. And inside the house there was always sunlight.

But all of that was changed now. Sunlight could not reach even the basement, for it was filled with rubble. Father was dead; mother was gone; perhaps she was a slave somewhere. Where were the other children? Some were dead; some were D.P.’s whom even America would not receive. The choir no longer sang in the church; there would be no more midnight Christmas celebrations. The American concluded his meditation, “This is worse than a graveyard; it is the inside of a tomb. Death is still here.”

Bombs from overhead had done this. They had done it to free a people, the cowboy had been told. When he looked up the lad had disappeared in the shadows. The little wizened face and the dwarfed body were gone.

To free a people? Can war ever free a people? he wondered. Though the lad was gone his questions filled all the crevices which had been homes. “Why do you hate us so? Didn’t you do this?”

We must share and give, praying God to help us live so unselfishly both now and hereafter that no little children ever again need ask, “Why do you hate us so?”

Love can cast out fear; it is the only thing which can. D.W.B.

Used by permission of Messenger magazine, Church of the Brethren.

 

Heifers and Havoc on the S. S. Humanitas, Part III

This series of posts brings to light the incongruity of Heifer Project animals being donated and shipped to Italy in the spirit of Christian goodwill to help destitute Italians recover from World War II on the one hand and cigarettes for the black market being smuggled into Italy on the same ship on the other. This post picks up the story on the fourth Heifer Project trip of the S. S. Humanitas that departed Baltimore on June 9, 1948.

Loading the S. S. Humanitas in Baltimore. June 1948. Photo courtesy of David Harner.

Like Charles Cutting and Byron Frantz on previous shipments, David Harner felt the ship reducing its speed as it approached the Naples harbor. “No one gave any explanation,” he says. “When I asked Señor Cortali [the radio man], he just shrugged and walked away–standard behavior when he didn’t want to answer a question. By nightfall, the ship was proceeding at a crawl, and finally, when it was completely dark, the ship came to a full stop. Crew members went around the ship making sure that no light escaped from the portholes or companionways. Still no explanation from the officers or crew. Suddenly, out of the dark roared several large, very fast speed boats.”

Harner’s crewmate Jim Moffet picks up the story. “A Jacob’s ladder was thrown over the side of our ship and a man came aboard. The crew of our ship began carrying boxes out of the hold and lowering them over the side into the boat. When it was loaded, another boat came out of the darkness and tied onto the side of us.”

Harner says, “After an hour or so, all of the speed boats had been loaded and they sped away into the darkness. Señor Cortali appeared. ‘You see? Cigarettes. You no tell anybody!’ We had witnessed a major cigarette smuggling operation. Cattle and cigarettes–strange cargo!”

After docking in Naples, Harner traveled up to Carrara, Italy, where the Brethren Service Committee had a project which was often visited by the cowboys on the Italian trips. Harner spent the rest of his summer there helping with the project’s children’s camps.

The cowboys on the next trip of the Humanitas once again experienced the smuggling operation. The outcome of their trip, however, was different from all the rest. Having heard the story from some of the cowboys who visited the project at Carrara, Harner writes it as his own:

“Soon after docking,” he says, “four or five men in suits, accompanied by several carabinieri with automatic weapons slung over their shoulders boarded the ship. They all looked grim. What they wanted was even grimmer. We were all under arrest: cowboys, crew, officers, and civilians…. We were escorted down through a gate and into the city. It wasn’t far before we came to a building with ‘Questura,’ carved into the stonework above the door. This was the Italian [police headquarters]. In a short time, the passengers were all released. In a few minutes more, thanks to the efforts of Señor Cortali, the cowboys were released. The officers and crew were all detained. As it turned out, all the officers and crew, except for Señor Cortali, were imprisoned for smuggling.”

A little embellishment here? Perhaps. But Jim Moffet’s brother Bob was on that shipment that had left Baltimore July 30, 1948. He wrote home on September 2, “The police really did give this ship a going over on the 22nd. They even went through some of our stuff. The captain, 1st mate, 3rd mate, chief engineer, and crew boss are all in jail. From what I hear I guess the police really did beat up the 1st mate. There is a fine of $35,000 that has to be paid by someone….”

A few days later, the Humanitas set sail once again for the US. The Heifer Project made one last shipment to Italy on October 12, 1948. The ship now had a different captain, and the cowboys on that crew reported no nefarious happenings.

The new captain of the the S. S. Humanitas, October 1948. Photo courtesy of Chester Bowman.

Heifers on their way to Italy, October 1948. Photo courtesy of Chester Bowman.

The S. S. Humanitas appears to finally have lived fully up to its name, a Latin word indicating kindness and benevolence.

Heifers and Havoc on the S. S. Humanitas, Part II

In my last post, I shared the havoc storms caused on the Italian ship S. S. Humanitas as it transported Heifer Project cattle and coal from Baltimore, Maryland, to Italy in 1947 and 1948. This week we learn about a different type of havoc the Humanitas seagoing cowboys witnessed.

Loading heifers onto the S. S. Humanitas in Baltimore, 1948. Photo courtesy of Kenneth West.

The slowing down of the ship on its first trip in December 1947, reported in our last post by cowboy Charles Cutting, did indeed involve “something unusual.” Timed to arrive offshore from Naples around 10:00 p.m., the ship crawled to a stop with all lights turned off. The cowboys were asked to stay in their quarters until further notice from the captain. Curiosity prompted Cutting and a friend named Burk, however, to hide in the cattle stall area. There they saw someone on the flying bridge swing a lantern.

“Out of the darkness,” Cutting says, “we could hear the splash of oars as a rowboat came alongside.” Cutting and Burk watched as crew members proceeded to transfer large boxes of cigarettes to the rowboat. A search light in the distance cut off the process for a second rowboat. “We started a slow forward motion without running lights,” Cutting said. When out of sight behind an island, the lantern signal resumed and the unloading process began again, with boxes lowered into the small boats and gunny sacks pulled up on board the Humanitas. Cutting now understood why so many rooms had been locked on the way over.

Noticing a flashlight moving across a dining table in the captain’s mess, Cutting and Burk left their hiding spot to look in the porthole. There, they observed the dumping of the gunnysacks and the counting of stacks of Italian lire. So engrossed in this operation were Cutting and Burk that they didn’t notice the two figures behind them. “The first realization came when I felt an arm around my throat and the slight coldness of a knifepoint in the small of my back,” Cutting says. After a shouting match between crew members, the captain told the boys they could watch from the radio room. With hearts racing, they needed no further convincing to head directly there.

Before daybreak, a patrol boat caught the ship’s crew in the act of smuggling. The officials removed the remaining boxes for which Cutting learned the next day they paid 50% of the black market price. “I was amazed to learn how business was conducted in this foreign land,” he says. He learned that each box, which cost $100 in Baltimore, had the value of $1,000 in Italian lire. “We also learned that this entire operation was under the auspices of Lucky Luciano,” Cutting says.

Officials gather on the S. S. Humanitas to see the Heifer Project animals off to Italy. Photo courtesy of Kenneth West.

Might any of the officials known what other cargo was on board? Photo courtesy of Kenneth West.

The smuggling operation repeated itself on Byron Frantz’s trip in February. Frantz charted the ship’s progress daily on a wall map. “After we passed the Straits of Gibralter,” he says, “I remarked that it looked like we would get to Naples at noon four days later.” He was told, “No it will be evening.” This conversation replayed the next day. On the fourth day, he discovered they were still at sea. “When I went to the engine room I found that the ship was at half speed!”

Out on deck after supper, Frantz saw the lights of Naples. He went to the cabin and asked his bunkmates to follow him “for a great sight. Can you imagine my surprise,” he says, “to find only total darkness. We were running parallel to the coast for thirty minutes and then back again for thirty minutes in order to stay beyond the three mile limit in International water. Naples was now on the other side of the ship! The Italian police had no authority beyond the three mile limit.”

After several hours of this, the smuggling operation commenced. Unlike Cutting’s experience, the cowboys on this second trip were not ordered inside. “Our crew told us to lock everything and trust no one” as men from the row boats came on board.

“By daylight all was tidy,” Frantz says. “Our ship made contact with the port, the police boats met us and escorted us into the dock in such a way that we could not bring things into the port. Of course at that time, we had gotten rid of all of it in international waters.”

The smuggling saga continues in our next post.

(The full story of Charles Cutting’s trip to Europe can be found in his book 1947 Europe from a Duffle Bag.)