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.”

 

5 thoughts on “The three Brethren mavericks behind the Heifer Project and the Seagoing Cowboys

  1. Thank you for filling in a missing piece of the Heifer history for me. Out of these three men, I had only heard of Dan West. Reading your story helped me realize how complex the “dream” was and that it required different people with different talents to make it come true. Fortunately, those men were willing to devote themselves to this amazing organization. I learn so much from you through your articles!

    Like

  2. It’s inspiring to know the connections and inspiration of these three men! Thank you, Peggy!

    On Fri, Oct 22, 2021, 7:02 AM The Seagoing Cowboys wrote:

    > Peggy Reiff Miller posted: “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 (” >

    Liked by 1 person

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