It’s impossible to tell the seagoing cowboy story without also telling the story of the Heifer Project, the forerunner to today’s Heifer International. The seagoing cowboy program and the Heifer Project were linked through their relationship to the Brethren Service Committee, the outreach arm of the Church of the Brethren, begun in 1941. (More about that connection in another post.)
The Heifer Project was the brain child of Church of the Brethren staff worker and gentleman farmer Dan West. He was sent to Spain in 1937 to help in a Quaker relief project during the Spanish Civil War. After observing inadequate supplies of reconstituted powdered milk being doled out to infants with those not gaining weight being taken off the list to die, West came home to his Indiana farm in early 1938 with the idea of sending cows to Spain. With “a cow, not a cup,” people would be able to help themselves.
For four years, West relentlessly promoted this idea to neighbors, church members, church leaders, and government officials. Finally, in April 1942, the Church of the Brethren Men’s Work of Northern Indiana adopted his plan, which in a short time became a national program of the Brethren Service Committee known as “The Heifer Project.”
(A heifer by Dan West’s definition is “a cow-not-yet,” that is, a cow before it gives birth to its first calf. Pronounced heffer.)
A grassroots effort from the start, local committees were formed and heifers were donated and raised. But World War II was raging, and the animals couldn’t be shipped to Spain. So the first shipment went to Puerto Rico where the Brethren had a Civilian Public Service unit, the Martin G. Brumbaugh Reconstruction Unit, that put conscientious objectors to work during the war in one of the poorest sections of the island.
Eighteen heifers were collected at the Nappanee, Indiana, stockyards on June 7, 1944, 70 years ago this summer. The fifteen Guernseys, two Jerseys, and one Milking Shorthorn were given shots for shipping fever and on June 12 were loaded into a ventilated box car partitioned for cattle. Four days later, they arrived by train in Mobile, Alabama, along with their caretaker, Marvin Senger, the first paid staff person of the Heifer Project. On June 26, Senger was joined by Wayne Hostetler, a young Brethren farmer from Orrville, Ohio, who was the volunteer administrator for the Northern Ohio Heifer Project Committee. Senger returned home, and Hostetler became Heifer’s first seagoing cowboy before there was such a designation, making the trip to Puerto Rico at his own expense.
Shipping delays kept the heifers at the stockyards in Mobile for nearly a month. The day the heifers arrived, one gave birth to a bull calf at the stockyards, then became sick five days later. She was kept behind at the nearby farm of the Brethren Petcher family to recover, while her calf took her place on the SS William D. Bloxham, a brand new Liberty ship making its first voyage. (More about Liberty ships in a later post.)
In Mobile, Hostetler obtained his Merchant Marine papers making him a “Seaman with cattle man rating, salary 1 cent per month,” a formality to make it legal for him to work on the ship. On his return to Indiana, Marvin Senger reported to the Heifer Project Committee that the Brethren Service Committee was charged $15.00 for Hostetler’s fare. “Signed for $5000 life insurance,” he told them, “to be paid by the government in case ship is destroyed and Wayne should lose his life due to enemy action.”
These were dangerous times to be shipping cattle.
Next post: Hostetler’s report to the Heifer Project Committee on his return. As recorded by the secretary, it begins: “He was glad for the trip, but doubtful that he would have promised if he had had a whole day to think it over.”
Sources for Hostetler’s story: “Heifers for Relief” Newsletter Number 1, July 28, 1944; Heifer Project Committee Minutes, July 9, 1944.