About Peggy Reiff Miller

I grew up on a small dairy farm in northwestern Illinois, went to a small country church, attended a small high school, then a small church-related college before venturing out into the big, wide world. I applied my liberal arts education to a number of jobs and careers for 35 years before hitting my stride as the writer and caretaker of the seagoing cowboy history. This calling has kept me well occupied since 2002.

Cattle tender histories intertwine

The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration’s livestock program is thought by some to be the largest effort of shipping animals overseas in world history. In the two years between June 1945 and April 1947, they had shipped a total of 369,048 draft and food-producing animals from the Western Hemisphere to Europe and a few other locations to help countries recover from World War II. This included, by UNRRA’s count, 174,202 horses, 28,976 mules, 36,199 cattle, and 129,671 other types of farm animals to Europe and a few other countries. There was another time in history, however, which out-paced UNRRA’s efforts – the difference between the two being that UNRRA’s mission helped heal the wounds of war, the other helped create them.

UNRRA heifers ready to ship out of Newport News, Virginia, June 1946. Photo: Lyle Chambers

Three decades before UNRRA’s “seagoing cowboys” came into being, cattle tenders would have been required to care for the hundreds of thousands of horses and mules shipped from the United States to serve as beasts of burden and transport in World War I. According to the International Museum of the Horse, “In the four years of the war, the United States exported nearly a million horses to Europe. This seriously depleted the number of horses in America. When the American Expeditionary Force entered the war, it took with it an additional 182,000 horses. Of these, 60,000 were killed and only a scant 200 were returned to the United States. In spite of the innovations of World War I, one reality remained the same; the horse was the innocent victim.”

World War I war horses. Signal Corps photo.

Large numbers of mules also found themselves on ships to Europe. The United States World War One Centennial Commission  notes, “The 1922 British War Office report on statistics of the Great War states that 275,097 mules were purchased from North America.” One large Missouri firm, Guyton and Harrington, contracted with the British army for horses and mules. According to author Michael Price, they alone “sold 180,000 mules to the British army from 1914-1918. . . . They also sold 170,000 horses to the British.”

Mule at use in World War II. Photo: Army Pictorial Service.

Some of the horses and mules used by the U. S. Army were bred and trained at the Army Quartermaster Remount Depot at Fort Reno in Oklahoma. When World War II rolled around with its advances in war machinery, horses and mules were no longer needed to the extent they were in World War I. After being decommissioned in 1948, the depot at Fort Reno was reactivated in 1952 to prepare horses and mules for export to Turkey. One of UNRRA’s former livestock ships, the S. S. Calvin Victory, now decommissioned and renamed the S. S. Columbia Heights, became the transport vehicle to take the animals across the ocean.

Todd Blomerth tells the story on his blog “Todd’s Historical Writings” of one of the young Army officers, William Pharr “Billy” Stromberg, involved with three of these shipments to Turkey. The Columbia Heights was in use during that same time period for the Levinson Brothers livestock trips to Israel which carried many a Mennonite seagoing cowboy to the Holy Lands. Interesting how histories intertwine!

Mennonite seagoing cowboys on the S. S. Columbia Heights, June 1951. Photo courtesy of Virgil Stoltzfus.

In Memorium

Carey, Gordon Ray, December 22, 2021, Arlington, Virginia. Ship unknown, to Okinawa with goats for Heifer Project, January 13, 1950.

Reynolds, Frances “Frankie” A., November 28, 2021, Conway, Arkansas. A Heifer Project cowgirl, trip details unknown.

Shoemaker, Kenneth, November 2, 2021, Normal, Illinois. S. S. Lindenwood Victory to China, December 19, 1946.

Weaver, Henry “Hank” David, Jr., December 7, 2021, Goshen, Indiana. S. S. Frederic C. Howe to Trieste, Italy, with livestock for Yugoslavia, November 15, 1946.

White, Orville (Joe), August 27, 2004, Bloomington, Minnesota. S. S. Wesley W. Barrett to Poland, April 14, 1946.

Rest in peace, dear seagoing friends.

Why Santa Claus uses reindeer for his sleigh

Seagoing cowboy and print-shop owner John Wesley Clay published a book of stories and poems he wrote on his trip with a load of horses to Poland on the S. S. Occidental Victory at age 66 in late 1946.

John Wesley Clay aboard the S. S. Occidental Victory, December 1946. Photo by Norman Weber.

In comparing Clay’s stories in High Adventure with the diary account of the cowboy he calls “Shorty,” I’ve come to realize that his tellings are a mixture of fact and fiction. Keeping that in mind, I thought this would be the perfect day to share with you his take on why Santa Claus uses reindeer for his sleigh.

After unloading the horses sent to Poland by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, the Occidental Victory went on to Finland to unload 6,000 tons of sugar at Turku. Then the ship traveled on around the Gulf of Finland to Kotka, a city in an area of logging and pulp mills, to pick up ballast in the form of either pulp or newsprint for the trip home. Here begins Clay’s tale, when he says he took a train north, desiring to visit Lapland.

“I found eighteen inches of snow in Lapland. It was a sleet-like snow, and your feet do not sink in as they do in snows of warmer climates,” Clay says. A man who spoke some English took him in for the night and fed him reindeer stew. The next morning, after a breakfast of reindeer steak, the man arranged for a Lapland taxi – “a very large buck reindeer hitched to a sleigh” – to take Clay to a reindeer ranch about twenty miles away. Clay says,

       I do not know if you have ever seen a jet plane in action. It streaks along so fast that it is gone before you hear the sound thereof. Well, that is exactly what I was reminded of when our reindeer got his pace. He laid his antlers back over his shoulders, stuck his long nose forward, and the way he skimmed over the landscape was amazing. He took long, graceful strides apparently with perfect ease, and as the narrow runners of the sleigh skimmed over the sleet-like snow they sang the shrillest little song and set fine spray that peppered my face like a needle bath. It was the most thrilling ride I had ever had, and then it was that I understood why Santa Claus uses the reindeer for his motive power. We got to our destination in just two hours, and after we had dismounted and stretched ourselves we heard the jingle of the sleigh bells coming in. Like the jet plane we had left them far behind.

Now folks, that is a slight stretch of the imagination. I am given to telling tall tales, but this voyage was so filled with thrills and adventure from beginning to end that I have had no need to use my imagination. I indulge this once from force of habit.

May the jingle of sleigh bells catch up to you this Christmas Eve.
Wishing my readers Blessings of the Season.

 

A Seagoing Cowboy’s Poem for Advent

John Wesley Clay, seagoing cowboy on the three-month fateful voyage of the S. S. Occidental Victory [dubbed “Accidental Victory”], had lots of free time to write. His closing poem in his book High Adventure which he published about his trip seems a fitting post during this time of Advent with its themes of Peace and Love.

IT TAKES A HEAP O’ TRAVELLIN’

It takes a heap o’ travellin’
In this world to know it well;
A heap o’ sure enough travellin’
Where the other peoples dwell.

John Wesley Clay on right, with Norman Weber, center, and unidentified cowboy aboard the S. S. Occidental Victory, October 1946. Photo courtesy of Norman Weber.

You must see ’em in their homes,
See ’em at their work and play;
Afore you understand ’em
You must see ’em while they pray.

Customs officer and his family, Oliwa, Poland, October 1946. Photo by Norman Weber.

It takes a heap ‘o travellin’
Over sea and over land;
To understand their actions,
And their motives understand.

Two “persistent beggars–likeable kids,” Gdansk, Poland, October 1946. Photo by Norman Weber.

For other folks are strange folks,
Until you know ’em well;
But when you learn to love ’em,
You find ’em fine and swell.

Vaino Aksanen and his boys at summer home of Tsar, Kotka, Finland, November 1946. Photo courtesy of Norman Weber.

You find ’em fine and swell and good,
As you profess to be;
And if you learn to know ’em well,
Then wars would cease to be.

Children in Bremen, Germany, December 1946. Photo by Norman Weber.

Yes, it takes a heap o’ travellin’
Over sea and over land;
To build that noble brotherhood,
And claim the Promised Land.

 

 

The Seagoing Cowboys and the Bruderhof

For some reason, the photos intended for this post were omitted this morning, so I am resending it with the images included.

At this time of Thanksgiving, I give thanks for the wonderful people my husband and I met or reconnected with this month on my 12-day speaking tour out east. I also give thanks for the work of sharing the seagoing cowboy stories that has, by providence, been placed in my hands. My tour took us to the Hagerstown, MD, and Elizabethtown, PA, Churches of the Brethren; the Living Branches Mennonite retirement community in Souderton, PA; and four Bruderhof communities in New York and Pennsylvania. I was able to tell specific stories of their own related cowboys at each place – always a joy. And particularly this time at the Bruderhofs.

The Bruderhof is a 100-year-old intentional Christian community with over 25 settlements on five continents. The members practice radical discipleship in the spirit of the first church in Jerusalem. After they came to the United States in the 1950s, a number of young Church of the Brethren families joined the movement, and today there are more than 600 descendants of the Church of the Brethren throughout the Bruderhof. Having grown up and been active in the Church of the Brethren, it was great fun for me when I first visited the Maple Ridge community in New York in 2016 to discover the many connections I had with Bruderhof members.

Heifer Project started in the Church of the Brethren in 1942; and when World War II ended in Europe in May of 1945, the Brethren Service Committee became the recruiting agency for the livestock tenders, dubbed “seagoing cowboys,” which the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration would need for their shipments of animals to Europe. I learned in 2016 that some of the Brethren families who joined the Bruderhof had been active in raising animals for the Heifer Project in those early years, that some of their relatives had served as seagoing cowboys, and that some of their young adults had recently spent a year volunteering at the Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas.

Bruderhof member Kathy Fike Mow & her sister Elsie in the right of this photo join other children in presenting money they had raised for a heifer to farmer Paul Rhodes in Astoria, IL, in 1944. Photo courtesy of Kathy Fike Mow.

So on this year’s trip, I went with stories in hand of Bruderhof relatives’ involvements in the Heifer Project and as seagoing cowboys to share with the four communities we visited. Being able to share a piece of their ancestral history at their high school and three of their elementary schools was the highlight of my trip.

Presenting the Heifer Project and seagoing cowboy story to 9th graders at Bruderhof’s The Mount Academy. The high school is located in an amazing former monastery. Photo credit: Rex Miller.

After basking for six days in the love and hospitality offered to us in the Bruderhof settlements we visited, and being inspired by their model of radical discipleship, my husband and I came away with hearts full of gratitude and refreshed for our journey home and the responsibilities that awaited us there.

With my husband Rex on the Hudson River at The Mount Academy, November 10, 2021.

May the Spirit of Thanksgiving embrace you as well.

Creighton Victory cowboys adopt a Polish boy to their crew

The seagoing cowboys on the S. S. Creighton Victory trip of July 4, 1946, to Poland were a special crew of interracial students recruited by the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen for UNRRA to determine if they could send integrated crews to Europe. The practice up to that time had been for cattle tenders to be segregated into all white or all black crews.

Fellowship of Southern Churchmen interracial seagoing cowboy crew at Hampton Institute, July 1946. Courtesy of Ben Kaneda.

When this Fellowship Crew reached Poland, they took on a special mission of their own – as described in the newsletter they published during their trip called “The Atlantic Daily.” In it, they included profiles of the entire crew. Profile #36 describes their mission:

The thirty-sixth member of the Fellowship Crew could only be Rog Stanislaw, 12-year-old Polish waif literally adopted by the cattlemen. Rog (pronounced Rook) won the admiration of everyone of the S. S. Creighton by his ever-smiling good nature, his good manners, and his honest desire for cleanliness.

The first evening that Rog left the Creighton after visiting with the men aboard, one of the ship’s regular crewmen gave him enough money in the form of Polish zlotych to enable him to buy himself a pair of shoes. Although Rog could speak only one or two words of English and German, his pride of his new shoes was apparent when he returned aboard the Creighton the next day.

Rog Stanislaw aboard the S. S. Creighton Victory in Nowy Port, Poland, July 1946. Photo courtesy of Ben Kaneda.

In spite of the fact that Rog often protested taking gifts from crew members, he was loaded down with soap, candy, apples, oranges, and gum when he had to leave the ship in the evening. Knowing this affable young boy who never asked for a single thing provided the other side of the picture to the large number of Polish children who followed American seamen by the hoards asking for gifts of all kinds.

Polish children beg for treats from Creighton Victory cowboys. Photo courtesy of Ben Kaneda.

On the last evening in port in Poland, the Fellowship Crew took up a collection of 633 zlotych and presented it to Rog who was both bashful and filled with gratitude.

There were tears in the eyes of Rog Stanislaw as the ship prepared to leave Poland. He wanted very much to go to America too. As he stood on the dock waving, waving, and waving, he became a mere speck in the distance as the Creighton Victory headed her bow in the direction of the Untied States of America, the land of plenty.

The suffering of all Poland was brought home to members of the Fellowship Crew time after time in visits to city and rural areas around Danzig but certainly no more lasting impression of the grief and need that exists there could have been seen than the young tow-headed Polish Rog Stanislaw, homeless waterfront wanderer who wanted to become a part of America so badly that he cried openly when his new American friends pulled out for home leaving him standing on the dock . . . alone.

In Memorium

On this Fifth Friday, we take a moment to remember seagoing cowboys who have passed from this earthly world.

Bard, Samuel L., April 6, 2013, East Petersburg, Pennsylvania. S. S. Park Victory to Yugoslavia (docking in Trieste, Italy), October 26, 1945.

Geiger, Alfred, June 4, 2021, Seattle, Washington. S. S. Virginian to Poland, June 30, 1946.

Graber, Samuel, October 1, 2021, Elkhart, Indiana. S. S. Robert W. Hart to Poland, June 24, 1946.

Hopkins, Ray K., October 5, 2021, Peru Indiana. S. S. Zona Gale to Yugoslavia (docking in Trieste, Italy), June 28, 1945.

Rest in peace, dear seagoing friends.

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.”

 

Hats Off to Archivists!

I just learned recently that October is American Archives Month. I’m interrupting my stories on seagoing cowboys today to take my hat off to the many archivists who have helped me gather my own archives of historical materials from which I write this blog.

Over the past nearly twenty years, I’ve been traveling around the country gathering materials from archives and individuals to document this little-known history of UNRRA’s and Heifer International’s seagoing cowboys. And what a rich history it is! I could not be telling it without access to the gems of primary source materials which I have found in the archives I’ve visited.

Searching through Heifer International historical materials at Vital Records Control, Maumelle, AR, 2011. Photo credit: Rex Miller

Kudos to the many archivists who have assisted me at:

  • The Brethren Historical Library and Archives [BHLA] in Elgin, Illinois – home of the historical materials of Heifer International founder Dan West and the many Brethren leaders and organizations that helped usher in the Heifer Project. A special tip of the hat to the late Ken Shaffer and the recently retired archivist Bill Kostlevy.
  • The United Nations Archives and Record Management Section in New York City – home of the archived materials of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration [UNRRA], a precursor to the UN.
  • The Manchester University Archives – home of alumni seagoing cowboy records and Brethren history. Kudos to archivist Jeanine Wine.
  • The Mennonite Church USA Archives when they were located at Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana – home of records of Mennonite seagoing cowboys. My thanks to former archivist Dennis Stoesz.
  • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Wilson Library – home of the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen records.
  • And last, but not least, the many staff members of Heifer International who have been caretakers of Heifer International’s historical materials while they were located at Vital Records Control in Maumelle, Arkansas, and are now located at Heifer’s headquarters in Little Rock. May these precious materials one day find a dedicated archival home. Many, many thanks to retired staffer Kathy Moore, herself a seagoing cowgirl, for her organization of Heifer’s historical materials before I started my research. You made my search for relevant documents ever so much easier than it would have been.

    Kathy Moore receiving Heifer International’s “Make a Difference Award” during their 70th anniversary celebration, March 2014.

“Archivists bring the past to the present. They’re records collectors and protectors, keepers of memory. They organize unique, historical materials, making them available for current and future research.”
— Lisa Lewis for the Society of American Archivists

Thank you to archivists everywhere who help us navigate the present by understanding the past.

S. S. Humanitas vignettes from a report by Milford Lady, Part III: Reflections on war and peace

This past Tuesday was the International Day of Peace, so it’s fitting to conclude Milford Lady’s vignettes with his reflections on entering the Mediterranean Sea in both wartime and peacetime.

9:00 [P.M.] – Dec. 17 [1947]
Tomorrow we will enter the Mediterranean Sea. This gives me a strange feeling. It takes me back to the year 1943 to the first time I entered the Mediterranean on June 6th. (My mother’s birthday). We left Bizerta, North Africa, with a liberty ship loaded with 200 Army men, with their equipment, guns, ammunition, trucks, etc. – bound for Malta. This was before Italy stopped fighting, and these men were to protect our invasion forces while they invaded Sicily. At 5:00 P.M. we were attacked by both German and Italian planes. We were bombed continually for 8 hours. I was on watch from 8-12 in the engine room during this time. We suffered a near miss which landed right off our starboard side, flooding our ship, shifting all our cargo to the port side and knocked out all our lights. I will never forget my feeling as I stood there about 20 feet underneath the surface of the ocean in total darkness, sure that we were seriously hit, awaiting my orders to abandon ship, not sure that I would ever see light again. At that time, I was helping transport death and destruction to Sicily and Italy.

Tonight I have a feeling of happiness. Tomorrow when we enter the Mediterranean I will be helping to transport life and hope to the people of Italy. I feel that in a small way, I am now helping in the greatest job in the world, that of building world peace. The terrible mistake of the second World War cannot be compensated for. However, I feel that it is organizations like the H.P. C. [Heifer Project Committee] that will in time prove to the world that the only way to lasting peace is through Christianity– abiding by the Golden Rule following the example of Christ.

I find it hard to believe that it was people exactly like this Italian crew (in fact it is possible that even a member of this crew) were the same ones who were trying to take my life and all others aboard our ship in 1943. I am sure that they look at us and wonder how fellows like us dropped bombs on their country and almost completely destroyed it. We are working together now for a common cause, which makes us great friends. Surely this is a step in the right direction.

Perhaps one of the main reasons I love the sea is because out here we are governed by the international law. If a ship is disabled at sea the nearest ship will come to its aid whether it be Russian, German, or Italian, or any other nationality. The nearest ship will come to help at top speed. Why can’t we work together the same way as nations.