Men at odds on a mission of goodwill

Dedication of Heifer Project cattle to be sent to Puerto Rico. York (PA) fairgrounds, April 29, 1945. Photo credit: Heifer International archives.

Seventy-four years ago this weekend, some 700 people gathered at the fairgrounds in York, Pennsylvania. The occasion? Dedication of 45 heifers and 5 bulls to be sent to Puerto Rico. The Church of the Brethren Gospel Messenger (May 26, 1945) reported:

At one end of the fair grounds, we are told, implements were being readied for war and for the conquest by force while at the other end these cattle were being dedicated to goodwill and to conquest by love and understanding.

Unfortunately, the two cattle tenders who accompanied these animals did not exemplify the latter. This created a royal headache for Rufus King, Director of the Civilian Public Service Unit #43 in Puerto Rico, the Brumbaugh Reconstruction Unit. King had the job of receiving the cattle and entertaining the cattle tenders while they were on the island.

For the purpose of this post, I’ll call the men Cowboy A and Cowboy B. This unfortunate pairing became a learning experience for the fledgling Heifer Project Committee. When Cowboy B made his report to the committee after the trip, his recommendation number 6 read: “The shipment should be in charge of some one person.” And therein, I believe, lies the crux of the problem.

In a letter to family, King characterized Cowboy A as “a retired farmer who at 66 still works hard and gets irked when any one around him can’t work as hard.” Cowboy B, whom King characterized as “a very successful farmer and good man, but of the managerial type,” got sick on board and could not do his share of the work. Cowboy A, having been put in charge of the cattle at York, may have assumed he would also be in charge on the ship.

The cattle had been trucked overnight to Brooklyn, New York, on May 16. The next morning, they were loaded into sheds on the top deck of the S. S. James Wetmore. The ship departed at 6:30 a.m., May 19, giving Cowboy A and Cowboy B a full week together before arriving in San Juan May 25.

“The upshot of it all,” King says, “was that these Brethren on a mission of goodwill were mighty tired of each other and parted company soon after their arrival!  Individually, I enjoy the company of each and we have entertained each of them separately here at the house for meals.”

To Heifer Project leaders, King wrote, “It is indeed very disgusting to have a shipment of ‘good will’ sent by the Brethren and those Brethren sent to care for the cattle can not get along between themselves and therefore do not represent the basic idea back of the gift. How can we build a new world when we as individuals refuse to lie down in the same pasture?”

The cattle, on the other hand, DID exemplify the goodwill the Heifer Project Committee intended. More on that in my next post.

Conditions in Puerto Rico, 1944 or 1945. Photo by Rufus King, courtesy of the King family.

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