Time Off

Dear Readers,

I’ll be taking a break during the month of October, as my husband and I in the process of moving from Indiana to Ohio. Regular posts should resume sometime in November once my new office gets settled. I share with you here one of my favorite seagoing cowboy photos to tide you over.

Seagoing cowboys on the S. S. Plymouth Victory en route to China, April 1947. Heaven only knows what they were doing! Photo courtesy of Eli Beachy.

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Speech to be live streamed

For those who might be interested, I will be a keynote speaker at the Church of the Brethren National Older Adult Conference at Lake Junaluska Conference Center in North Carolina Thursday, September 7. My illustrated talk will be live streamed at 10:30 a.m. at http://www.brethren.org/Inspiration2017 and can be accessed later, as well. My topic will be “Delivering Hope to the Next Generation.” The speech will give the back story of how I became the documenter of the seagoing cowboy history, the legacy of the seagoing cowboys and the Heifer Project, and the importance of continuing to deliver hope to the next generation. I’d be honored to have you join me.

In Memorium

It’s time for my regular Fifth Friday post to honor the seagoing cowboys who have passed away recently. These are the ones of whom I am aware:

Baker, John S. “Jack,” March 7, 2017. S. S. Mexican to Poland, November 8, 1945.

Barnhill, Gilbert E., Jr., November 28, 2016. S. S. Edwin D. Howard to August 17, 1946.

Coffman, H. McKinley, December 1, 2016. S. S. American Importer to Germany, August 11, 1953.

Godshall, Clyde M., June 13, 2015. S. S. Columbia Heights to Israel, May 4, 1953.

Libby, Paul, May 14, 2015. S. S. Pass Christian Victory to Poland, May 9, 1946.

Lord, Howard J., March 6, 2017. S. S. Rock Springs Victory to Greece and Ethiopia, May 12, 1947.

Miller, Levi M., November 6, 2016. S. S. Mount Whitney to Poland, July 29, 1946.

Miller, Norman S., December 7, 2016. S. S. John J. Crittenden to Poland, March 6, 1946.

Moyer, Howard E., February 22, 2017. S. S. Norwalk Victory to Poland, January 9, 1947.

Nentwig, Earl Jack, November 17, 2016. S. S. Beloit Victory to Czechoslovakia, June 8, 1946; S. S. Edward W. Burton to Poland, July 15, 1946.

Voth, Alden Harry, December 22, 2016. S. S. John J. Crittenden to Yugoslavia, November 23, 1945.

Wine, Jacob C., Jr., March 12, 2017. S. S. Cedar Rapids Victory to Czechoslovakia, May 17, 1946.

Many thanks to Martha Neri for her gift to my Seagoing Cowboy Storytelling Project in honor of her father Andrew Yanik, S. S. Cedar Rapids Victory to Greece, November 13, 1946.

Rest in peace, dear friends.

The Seagoing Cowboy Storytelling Project

My work of fifteen years now has a name: The Seagoing Cowboy Storytelling Project, with thanks to the family of seagoing cowboy Alvin Zook for coming up with this title. The start of a new year is always a good time to look back and ahead; I’m adding a first Friday post this month to do just that.

Seagoing Cowboy Al Guyer and Peggy Reiff Miller

Seagoing Cowboy Al Guyer and I reunite, October 25, 2014. Photo credit: Rex Miller.

It was fifteen years ago this month that I made my first seagoing cowboy interview with a former pastor of mine, Albert Guyer. I knew he had gone to Poland with livestock, and I wanted to know what my Grandpa Abe’s trip might have been like. Al’s story hooked me in and got me started on a journey that culminated this past year with the publication of my first book, the children’s picture book The Seagoing CowboyThat event pretty well defined my professional year, first planning for its release the end of March and then promoting it throughout the remainder of the year.

A highlight of my year was a 3-day visit to the Maple Ridge Bruderhof community in Ulster Park, New York. Many older members have long ties to Church of the Brethren, Heifer Project, and seagoing cowboy history. Vonnie Burleson's (left) father and Marlys Blough Swinger's (right) brother were seagoing cowboys. Martin Johnson (top right) was my delightful host. Photo by Reuben Mow (grandson of Anna and Baxter Mow.

A highlight of my year was a 3-day visit to the Maple Ridge Bruderhof community in Ulster Park, New York. Many older members have long ties to the Church of the Brethren and its Heifer Project and seagoing cowboy history. Vonnie Burleson’s (left) father and Marlys Blough Swinger’s (right) brother were seagoing cowboys. Martin Johnson (top right) was my delightful host. Photo by Reuben Mow (grandson of Brethren icons Anna and Baxter Mow).

 

A local book signing and release party was followed by speaking events and signings for all ages that have taken me from coast to coast, with stops in Indiana and Iowa, Arkansas, California, North Carolina, New York state, Maryland, Virginia, back to California, on to Arizona, and Texas, often connecting with seagoing cowboys. I’m grateful to my many readers for the warm and enthusiastic reception of my book and the seagoing cowboy story. It’s been a whirlwind of a year, and I’m looking forward to a different pace and focus for 2017.

Sharing the story with Maple Ridge Bruderhof upper elementary students. Photo by Reuben Mow.

Sharing the story with Maple Ridge Bruderhof upper elementary students. Photo by Reuben Mow.

I’m excited about the year to come. It will start with a trip next week to Germany, where I will be able to visit the seagoing cowboy exhibit at the Upper Silesian Museum in Ratingen. Then my focus turns to the writing of a book about the first decade of the Heifer Project, including the seagoing cowboy story as it relates to Heifer. I plan to sequester myself for six months during the year at the Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas, to that end. Three months in the middle of that will be spent in “Oma and Opa time” assisting our daughter in Ohio with child care while she tests the waters of running a friend’s market garden for the summer.

If all works as planned, the year will end with another trip abroad — this time to Finland for the 70th anniversary commemoration of the S. S. Park Victory and the ten sailors who lost their lives in the sinking of the ship off the coast of Finland in December, 1947. The Park Victory had been one of UNRRA’s livestock ships, making six trips prior to its demise while shipping coal. It’s a famous ship wreck in Finland, but the livestock portion of the ship’s history was unknown there until one of the men working on the commemoration found my website.

I will only be taking a limited number of speaking engagements this year. I’m looking forward to being the speaker for a Heifer International event in Michigan April 8, in being the featured author to kick off the children’s summer reading program at the Goshen, Indiana, public library in June with the theme of “Build a Better World,” and in being a keynote speaker at the Church of the Brethren National Older Adult Conference (NOAC) in North Carolina in September. Aside from that, my plan is to write, write, write!

Many wonderful pieces of seagoing cowboy and Heifer Project history happened in 1947, so look for lots of 70-year commemorations in my blog posts throughout the year. I’m looking forward to a great year, and I wish you one, as well!

Seagoing Cowboy Supervisor Herb Pownall tells his story

I recently came across a delightful 20-minute interview with Herb Pownall by Caroline Ballard on the HumaNature podcast of Wyoming Public Media. Herb served as an UNRRA seagoing cowboy supervisor on the S. S. Edwin D. Howard to Germany that left Newport News, Virginia, April 29, 1946, with a load of 833 bred heifers for Czechoslovakia. Herb has some great photos that also appear on the HumaNature website. Click here for the podcast and photos. Enjoy!

Luke Bomberger holds record for most seagoing cowboy trips

Luke graciously shared his seagoing cowboy stories with me in July 2004.

Luke Bomberger graciously shared his seagoing cowboy stories with me in July 2004.

When 17-year-old Luke Bomberger of Mt. Joy, Pennsylvania, set sail for Greece on the S. S. Charles W. Wooster on August 15, 1945, he had no idea his expected two-month adventure would last twenty-one months. The Charles Wooster was only the seventh livestock ship to leave the United States. It carried 335 horses and the first Mennonites to sign up for the program. As all of the seagoing cowboys were required to do, these men had to join the Merchant Marine to be able to legally work on a merchant ship.

Luke explores the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, with crew members of the S. S. Charles W. Wooster, 1945. Photo courtesy of Wilbur Layman.

Luke explores the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, with crew members of the S. S. Charles W. Wooster, 1945. Photo courtesy of Wilbur Layman.

 

In line with his Mennonite upbringing, Luke had registered with his draft board as a conscientious objector. He turned 18 while he was at sea on the Charles Wooster, and his draft board came calling. When his parents told the board where he was and what he was doing, the board said he should keep on doing it for his service. His Merchant Marine status was his ticket to a tour of duty.

Luke, top left, enjoyed life-long friendships with some of these crew mates of the S. S. Norwalk Victory, Feb. 1946. Photo courtesy of Elmer Bowers.

Luke, top left, enjoyed life-long friendships with some of these crew mates of the S. S. Norwalk Victory, Feb. 1946. Photo courtesy of Elmer Bowers.

Luke made nine trips before his discharge on April 25, 1947. He is likely the only seagoing cowboy who received a letter from President Harry Truman, “To you who answered the call of your country and served in its Merchant Marine to bring about the total defeat of the enemy, I extend the heartfelt thanks of the Nation….” He also received a “Certificate of Substantially Continuous Service in the United States Merchant Marine” from the United States Maritime Commission.

Hiking with crew mates outside Trieste, Italy, February 1946. Photo credit: Elmer Bowers.

Hiking with crew mates outside Trieste, Italy, February 1946. Photo credit: Elmer Bowers.

Luke’s nine trips took him across the Atlantic Ocean sixteen times and across the Pacific twice. He traveled on eight different ships that took him to Greece, Poland, Italy, Germany, the Island of Crete, and China. He proved himself a worthy sailor on his first trip when he was hired as a “Wiper” for the return stretch to fill in for a regular crewman who had to stay behind in Greece. At the young age of 18, he became a cowboy foreman on his fifth trip and served in that capacity at least twice more.

Cleaning stalls on the way to China aboard the S. S. Boulder Victory. Photo credit: Eugene Souder.

Cleaning stalls on the way to China aboard the S. S. Boulder Victory. Photo credit: Eugene Souder.

All was not smooth sailing for this young man, though. Close encounters with mines floating in the water on a couple of his ships, a fire in the engine room on another, a fall in which he broke his hand, and a horse bite that left a lifelong scar on his back added drama to some of his trips. His scariest moment, however, was aboard an older merchant ship, the S. S. Mexican, on his second trip. He was serving as night watchman, making his rounds to check on the animals. After one of his hourly reports to the bridge, his foot slipped coming down a rain-slicked ladder and he shot across the deck on his back right towards an opening on the side of the ship. All that saved him from disappearing into the dark Atlantic night was a narrow lip of metal at the opening that caught his foot and stopped his slide. He was grateful to be alive, cracked ribs and all.

Luke says his trips made him more aware of persons of other countries and their needs, which influenced his family’s hosting of international exchange visitors and students through the years.

Join me on my seagoing cowboy journey!

Seagoing Cowboys!

The term itself makes one curious, draws one in. Who were they? What did they do? My own curiosity began with an envelope of my grandfather’s photos given to me by my father after my grandpa died. Growing up in the Church of the Brethren, I knew about seagoing cowboys; but I didn’t know my Grandpa Abe had been one of them. In September 1946, at age 49, he sailed to Poland on the SS Pierre Victory with a load of 774 horses. This shipment was part of a program run by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration to help countries devastated by World War II recover and rebuild.

Seagoing Cowboy Abraham Reiff

Grandpa Abe and fellow cowboys on the SS Pierre Victory, October 1946

The story hiding in grandpa’s photos meshed with a growing interest I had in writing a young adult novel. What a great topic! I thought. I could write about the journey of a young seagoing cowboy to Poland. Little did I know what a journey the pursuit of this project would become for me!

My curiosity led me to a former pastor, Rev. Al Guyer, who I knew had been a seagoing cowboy to Poland. Maybe I could learn from him what Grandpa’s trip might have been like, I thought.

Al’s story drew me in.

Seagoing Cowboys leave home

Al Guyer and Jack Baker prepare to leave home for the journey of a life time in November 1945.  Source: Albert Guyer

That interview was in January 2002, right before our family moved from Maryland to Northern Indiana, smack dab in the middle of seagoing cowboy country where the story of the related Heifer Project, today’s Heifer International, began. My passion for the story grew with every cowboy I interviewed and I’ve been uncovering, documenting, writing, and speaking about this little-known history ever since. It turned out to be a much larger story than I had anticipated, taking me all across the country to interview cowboys and visit various archives, including those of the United Nations, Heifer International, the Church of the Brethren, and the Mennonites.

Peggy Reiff Miller researching seagoing cowboy history

Digging for information in the Heifer International archives.

Most recently, my research has taken me to Germany and Poland where I was able to see where the seagoing cowboys had been and meet recipients of animals delivered in 1945 to Poland and in 1950 to Germany.

Peggy Reiff Miller meets with Reichswald settlers in Germany who received heifers from the Heifer Project.

In September 2013, I met with 11 Reichswald settler families in Germany who received heifers in 1950 from the Heifer Project. My interpreter and friend Ingrid Marx is on my right. Photo credit: Hannelore Erkens

 

Peggy Reiff Miller meets with the Stanislaw Debert family in Pruszcz Gdanski, Poland.

I had a joyous meeting with the Stanislaw Debert family in Pruszcz Gdanski, Poland, in October 2013. Stanislaw received a heifer from the Heifer Project and two horses from UNRRA in late 1945. Photo credit: Magda Starega

So what about my novel?

Finding Charity, which has long since been drafted and gone through three major revisions, is resting. Along the way, I realized it was a nonfiction book about the seagoing cowboys that was needed and wanted by the cowboys, as well as a book about the beginnings of the Heifer Project. So that has become my priority. I have a children’s picture book, Grandpa Was a Seagoing Cowboy, under contract with Brethren Press; and I’ll keep you posted on its progress. But for now, the point I’m at is sifting through a roomful of accumulated research materials to find the stories for my nonfiction books.

Peggy Reiff Miller's office

Lots and lots of files to process!

l’ll be sharing pieces of this history here as I go. I hope you’ll join me on my journey.

[My intention is to post every second and fourth Friday or Saturday. I invite you to become a regular follower.]