Seagoing Cowboys and the Maritime Union

Our last post told of the process by which an interested person became a seagoing cowboy and obtained his Merchant Marine ID that allowed him to legally work on a merchant vessel. Today’s post looks at the UNRRA end of the process. The supplying of these cattle-tending personnel for the livestock ships became a major problem for UNRRA in the early stages of the program.

First, as we’ve previously noted, was the lack of qualified candidates. In their Historical Livestock Report, UNRRA notes: “Draft Boards were still requiring great numbers of men. Employment possibilities were excellent in most fields…” making it difficult to find the caliber of person desired. UNRRA solved this problem by contracting with the Brethren Service Committee to recruit the cattle tenders.

The report also states, “The relationship between the ship’s crew and the cattle attendants on shipboard and the possible interest of the Maritime Unions in the cattlemen presented additional problems.” To avoid potential conflicts between these three groups, UNRRA Livestock Branch employee Sol Lischinsky was sent to New York to confer with union officials. It took several conferences for an agreement to be reached, after which National Maritime Union president Joseph Curran “dispatched a letter to [UNRRA’s] Director General in which he advised that the N.M.U. would have no interest in the cattle attendants, even though they were to be signed on ships articles as members of the ship’s crew.”

The UNRRA report went on to say,

It was agreed with the War Shipping Administration and the ships operators that cattle attendants would be subject to the same regulations on shipboard as were the regular ship’s crew. Veterinarians and supervisors were to be accorded the same privileges as were the ship’s officers. This was necessary in order to insure a relationship between the persons responsible for the care of the animals and those responsible for the operation of the ship which would lend itself to the best interest of the animals.

Under the original agreement with the Brethren Service Committee, UNRRA paid the sum of $150.00 for each man recruited. Later revisions in the agreement provided for the payment of an additional $100.00 for men designated as foremen….

This meant that seagoing cowboys received $150.00 per trip, whether that trip took four weeks or four months. They were, however, paid per month by the Merchant Marine — all of one cent per month! — a simple formality to make the cowboys legal workers on the merchant vessels.

Seagoing cowboy receives penny for Merchant Marine service.

This unidentified newspaper clipping highlights the seagoing cowboy pay.

Next post: Hanging around in the port city

6 thoughts on “Seagoing Cowboys and the Maritime Union

    • Hi, Joyce! Yes, they were highly motivated. For some, the higher UNRRA pay was the drawing force; but for most, I think it was their desire to do something positive after the war; and for some it was strictly adventure. But they traveled to and from the port city at their own expense, which says a lot about their motivation.


  1. Peggy, thanks so much for these posts! My father, Jasper “Jay” Garner was a Seagoing Cowboy. He is 93 now and dementia has robbed him of much of his memory so it is great for me to be able to read these posts that keep that memory alive. Thanks again!


    • Eric, thanks for your comment. You’ve made my day! Seeing what my work has meant to the families of the cowboys and the cowboys themselves has been the greatest joy of my work. I’m sorry that I was never able to meet your father in person; I value the correspondence we had. I’m away from home right now, but if I’m not mistaken, your father was also part of the starvation experiment CPS unit, right? What a great family legacy you have.


  2. Very interesting. However, it might be interesting to discover how many shiploads of horses did we have to take over before we could take cows and what was the agreement with UNRRA about that. Danke. Gordon


    • Hey, Gordon! Good to hear from you. To answer your questions: There were UNRRA cows on the second livestock ship to leave the U.S., the SS Virginian that left after your ship the end of June 1945. If you mean how long before Heifer Project cows were shipped, it wasn’t until November 19, 1945, that the first Heifer Project animals were on an UNRRA ship — the SS Santiago Iglesias to Poland. There were three Heifer Project shipments made outside of UNRRA before that, however: one to France in September and two to Belgium in October and November. The agreement with UNRRA was that UNRRA would include Heifer Project animals in their shipments at no charge to the Brethren Service Committee and would distribute the animals under the terms of the Heifer Project, meaning they would be given to the neediest of farmers rather than having the farmer pay a fee as they did for the UNRRA animals. In return, the BSC recruited the cattle tenders for UNRRA. Hope that answers your questions. And, you’re welcome.


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