Seagoing cowboys signed on to the job for a variety of reasons. Some were simply looking for adventure. Some wanted to see for themselves what the war had done. Others wanted to do something worthwhile to help those suffering from the war. For Amishman Lores Steury, the motivation was far more personal.
Steury had served over three years in Civilian Public Service camps during the war. Dissatisfaction hit him hard when he came home from CPS to his family farm. He and his family belonged to an independent Amish group, the Reformed Amish Christian, under an authoritarian leader. “They had no connection with anybody,” Steury said. “And that became very disappointing. That’s the one reason I decided to take a seagoing cowboy trip—to get away and decide what I really want to do with my life.”
Unlike Cletus Schrock who didn’t find out he would be excommunicated until he got home from his livestock trip, Steury decided to go knowing full well what would happen on his return. So he kept his plans to himself and rented a post office box for his correspondence with the seagoing cowboy office. “And then I made a mistake,” he said. “I gave them my home address at the farm, and my mother got the mail the day I got a card to report to Newport News. It was very difficult for my parents to know that I couldn’t be part of the church anymore. But they helped me out as much as they could. They took me to the train station.”
When Steury arrived in Newport News, he met three young Mennonite men he knew from Indiana. The guys had to wait in port a few days before signing onto their ship, and there Steury experienced several “firsts”: seeing his first movies (Westerns), having a date with a girl he didn’t already know (from the nearby Mennonite community his three shipmates had contact with), and seeing separate drinking fountains and places on a bus for black people. On Sunday, December 15, the foursome departed on the S. S. Queens Victory to take a load of 770 mules to Greece.
Steury found mules easy to take care of. “Just feed and water ’em and let ’em do as they please,” he said. He had heard others talk of having a much harder time with horses that needed to be kept standing the whole way across the ocean and would often bite. The easier work with mules left time for playing chess and checkers and other games.
“At night, I liked to be on the fantail and watch the propellers stir up the water making the phosphorus light up in the dark,” Steury said. “And I’d think, now what am I going to do with my life? Would I be a seagoing sailor that would enjoy the sea, maybe as a ship carpenter? Am I gonna go back home and be a prodigal son and say I did all wrong what I’d done? I just never felt I could do that.”
Steury’s ship docked in Piraeus, the port for Athens. “We did some sightseeing but the natives were very uneasy as Greece was in a Civil War at the time,” he said. He talked with people who had been on the brink of starvation during the German occupation. And he was approached by a man who wanted Steury and his friend to help him hide on the ship and help feed him. They told him, “We can’t do that. You’d get in trouble and we would, too.”
The man found another way. By the time the Queens Victory reached the Atlantic Ocean, he and six other Greeks desperate to get to the United States had made their presence known. “He was so happy!” Steury said. But his happiness was short lived. When the ship arrived in New York, the stowaways were put off at Ellis Island; and according to Steury, the shipping company had to pay $1,000 apiece to send them back to Greece.
On arriving home after some sightseeing in New York City, Steury said, laughing, “They didn’t butcher a fatted calf.” He was soon excommunicated and took up farming outside Berne with his Uncle Dan who belonged to the Evangelical Mennonite Church. He met his wife-to-be at a Rural Youth social. “I feel greatly blessed when I review my life with my lovely wife and family,” he told me. They ended up living in Goshen, Indiana, where he worked for Goshen College. “Thank the good Lord I did move to my cousin’s house and farm for Uncle Dan.”
Here is a man who risked it all to be a cowboy…but ended up with a great life after the event. It’s almost a fairy tale! (One question, however. He mentioned that mules were easier because those cowboys who shipped horses had to work to make sure they stayed standing up the entire way across the ocean. Really? Why couldn’t they let horses lie down?)
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The horses had a more fragile digestive system and would most often die if they would lie down. They could sleep standing up, as their knees were designed to lock.
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Peggy, that was a great Amish story and he finally ended up at Goshen College where I graduated from in 52 and the summer I was married and still live with my wife after 67 years, now at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community in Harrisonburg.âEugene Souder
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Hi, Eugene. Always great to hear from you! I didn’t realize are a Goshen College alum. Nice.
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