Oceans of Possibilities: Turning Swords into Plowshares

If you missed my program for the Indian Valley Public Library last week and would like to see it, you can tune in to the 56-minute recording here. I talk about the ways in which the seagoing cowboys and the Heifer Project contributed to building peace after World War II. Enjoy!

~Peggy

The Longest Ride – Part III: Greek Odyssey in Kavalla

The seagoing cowboys on the S. S. Carroll Victory had some tense moments before putting their feet on dry land in Kavalla, Greece, in November 1946. Charlie Lord wrote to his wife, “A sudden squall struck us this morning and blew like fury, with rain. Our ship went off the course and we wandered through mine fields without knowing where the cleared channel was. Then the weather cleared and we came into this beautiful harbor about 8:31 A.M.”

Kavalla, Greece, November 18, 1946. © Charles Lord

“An ancient castle dominates the scene with a Roman viaduct crossing the narrow valley below. The rest of the wide-flung area of mountainside is covered with white and yellow square houses with rose-colored roofs, set one above the other, step like on the mountain side.” Fellow cowboy Maynard Garber noted in his diary, “Kavalla in Paul’s time was known as Neapolis. The castle was probably frequently visited by Paul during some of his missionary journeys.”

The Carroll Victory stayed six days in port at Kavalla, giving the cowboy crew plenty of time to explore the area and absorb its history. On their second day, Lord said, “The British army took the whole cattle crew to Philippi, just over the mountain in a transport truck this afternoon. We had a marvelous time, looking at the ruins of the ancient Roman city.”

Exploring the ruins of Philippi, November 20, 1946. © Charles Lord

Garber noted, “To some of the fellows, the place was just a pile of stones, but to most of us the place had some meaning. It was here that Paul on one of his missionary journeys built a church. As we walked around on the wide stone foundations we knew that it was here that Paul preached. We then had the privilege of seeing the prison where Paul was imprisoned for the night.”

Entrance to the prison where the Apostle Paul was held. © Charles Lord

The Carroll Victory cowboys had the joy of seeing some Heifer Project animals that had previously been distributed in villages around Kavalla. “In one home,” Lord said, “the woman gave up her room to the heifer, and she sleeps with the children.”

This woman slept with her children so her beloved gift from the Heifer Project could have her room. © Charles Lord

Five of the cowboys got a ride with a British army truck over the mountains one day to find a village of thatched huts. “Fog was very thick,” Lord said. “We started walking up a path away from the road. We went about the distance we thought it should be to the village though none of us had been there. Then we stopped debating what to do. The fog lifted and there was the village across a ravine.”

The thatched village near Kavalla, Greece, visited by seagoing cowboys, November 23, 1946. © Charles Lord

“It was like a picture from a storybook,” Lord said. “The people in their black woolen and fur clothing were carding wool, sewing clothing, and putting up the pole framework of another hut. The people were friendly if their dogs were not, and let us take all the pictures we wanted.”

Woman on right spinning wool in her thatched-hut village near Kavalla, Greece, November 23, 1946. © Charles Lord

“We came back over a very high mountain, saw lots of fortifications on the top . . . then ran down the mountain strate [sic] to supper. They threw a birthday party for the Chief Steward tonight. He asked me to take pictures for him. I did, figuring they may fit in my interracial story since captain and chief mate sat next to him at the table.”

Chief Steward of the S. S. Carroll Victory Ivory Dennis with the ship’s captain on the left and chief mate on the right. © Charles Lord

“The steward said it was best birthday party he’d ever had,” Lord told his wife. “Captain said he was glad to see cattlemen there, was sure we’d have a good trip.

“We have had a wonderful six days in Greece. We will probably spend 2 or 3 days in Haifa getting a boiler fixed, then on to Durban, S. Africa.”

~ to be continued

Once again, my thanks to Charles Lord for so graciously sharing his letters and photos with me.

The Longest Ride – Part II: Life on board from the US to Greece

Today’s post picks up the story of the November 5, 1946, trip of the S. S. Carroll Victory to Greece and South Africa. I’m exceedingly grateful to Charlie Lord for sharing with me and granting me permission to use the letters he wrote to his wife while on this trip as well as his marvelous photo collection documenting this voyage. The following vignettes show in part what life on board was like for these seagoing cowboys apart from caring for their 785 horses.

Nov. 5 – “It has been unusually rough for the first day out they say. The ship is rolling sidewise a lot and rocking endwise, each end goes up and down 8 or 10 feet with each rock. . . . It’s very unhandy to be trying to re-arrange things in a locker, and find yourself sliding back and forth on the floor and the locker door banging back and forth against your leg with every roll. Dishes banged in the pantry and kitchen with that one.”

In the stormy Atlantic Ocean, November 1946. © Charles Lord

Nov. 6 – “The sea continues quite rough. The crew battened every thing down today after a flying box slid off into a passageway and almost hit a cattleman. . . . Down in lower two [hold where Lord worked], it sounds like thunder as hundreds of hooves go one or two steps forward then back on each roll. . . . Several cattlemen are feeling under the weather. I hope to get a picture of a man at the rail tomorrow.”

Nov. 7 – “Del just told about his getting caught in the cable, swinging on the end of the cable clear out over the stalls and the ocean and coming back to crash his shoulder into a bale of hay.”

Pulling up hay from the lower hold on a rocking ship was dangerous work. © Charles Lord

Nov. 11 – near the Azores. “A strong wind is blowing and the ship is pitching from end to end, lengthwise. It feels queer to be climbing a ladder and have to use most of your strength to get two or three rungs then float up the next two. Walking you climb a hill then are practically thrown through space. A few men are getting seasick again. . . . Tonight I saw sparks in the water behind the ship. It is a phosphorescent result of the propeller or something. It looks like diamonds in the sea.”

Cowboy supervisor Jesse Roth at the top of the hold 2 ladder. © Charles Lord

Nov. 12 – “There is a notice up about a Mail Buoy at the Rock of Gibraltar, but I hear it is a hoax. If it isn’t I hope to send this letter there.”

Charlie Lord at the Rock of Gibraltar. Looking for the mail buoy? November 1946. © Charles Lord

Nov. 13 – “The Mail Buoy is an old marine joke. I’ll send this in Greece. . . . I did my washing today. Main trouble is that soot from the smokestack leaves soot on them while drying. . . . I showed my pictures to the Chief Steward of the ship, a Negro, and asked him if I could take pictures of his department sometime. He has 14 men under him, about half colored & half white. I’ll bet Ebony would like pictures of an interracial crew at sea, without any mention of cattle-boating. I’ve never seen any article on the subject. He was enthusiastic, promised 100% cooperation. He said if I could get the story where all the people would see it, realize mixed races can get along when living close together in cramped quarters for weeks or months, it would help him & the whole Negro race.”

Nov. 15 – “We are supposed to go to Kavalla. But about a thousand guerrillas are loose with arms in that territory so we may not go there. . . . We got clean linen [today]. We get it once a week. 2 bath towels, 2 hand towels, 2 sheets, 1 pillow case, and clean bed spread every two weeks.”

Nov. 16 – “One of the things I dislike about this is the way most of the horses have colds or something, and have snotty noses. They often snort and cough & blow the mucous on a fellow when he is watering or feeding them. All in all, it’s a pretty easy job, though. The manure is beginning to smell now. It is getting warmer.”

Nov. 17 – nearing Kavalla. “We passed through a mine field and they sent all men up from the holds from 3:30 to 5:30 PM. We will pass through another in the morning and no one is to be in the holds below from 4 – 6 AM. We are due to reach Kavalla at about daybreak.”

Nov. 18 – “We arrived!”

Arriving in Kavalla, Greece, safe and sound November 18, 1946. © Charles Lord

Next post: Greek odyssey #1

The Longest Ride – Part I: A Man with a Mission

The longest UNRRA livestock trip of which I am aware lasted five months. The 32 seagoing cowboys who signed on to the S. S. Carroll Victory in November 1946 were aware that the ship would take horses to Greece and then go down to South Africa to pick up more horses to take back to Greece, and possibly repeat the trip to South Africa, which it did. I have a number of accounts of this trip and will share their stories over the next several posts.

S. S. Carroll Victory, photo © Charles Lord

Charlie Lord signed on to the Carroll Victory at age 26 with a mission in mind: documenting the trip photographically for publication. Lord had spent three-and-a-half years in Civilian Public Service during World War II, serving part of that time at the Philadelphia State Mental Hospital at Byberry. In May 1946, Life magazine had published some of Lord’s photographs, taken on the sly, of the horrendous conditions and treatment of the mentally ill. These images shocked the country and gave impetus to a reform movement for more humane treatment of mentally ill persons. Lord knew that UNRRA seagoing cowboy crews were often interracial, following the success of the experimental interracial crew during the summer; so this time around, in the age of Jim Crow, Lord hoped to capture a story of an interracial seagoing cowboy crew working together in harmony.

Lord wrote a postcard to his wife September 26 after arriving at the Naval Landing Building in Norfolk, Virginia, to get his seaman’s papers. What he saw in Virginia troubled him. “The segregation burns me up,” he told her. “It cuts my heart every time I step on a street-car, bus, or ferry and see a little sign ‘Segregation of Races,’ a synopsis of laws of Va. as effective June 11, 1946 etc. Every motorman is a deputy sheriff in case of trouble!”

A maritime strike kept Lord waiting a month in Newport News, Virginia, before he was able to sign on to a ship. He took advantage of the time to take photos of the Terminal Stockyards where the livestock were collected, inspected, and culled and photos of the Brethren Service Center office.

Horses awaiting shipment at the Terminal Stockyards in Newport News, Virginia, October 1946. Photo © Charles Lord.

“I talked with the fellows at BSC office about the article for Life,” he told his wife. “They are quite interested and will give me full cooperation. They think UNRRA will too.”

Seagoing cowboys in line for assignment to a ship, October 1946. Photo © Charles Lord.

When shipping resumed, Lord had a choice between a ship headed for Poland or a ship going to Greece and South Africa – a choice he had to make before knowing the racial makeup of the cowboy crew. He chose the longer trip. “I hope it is the wisest course,” he told his wife. “It will lose much of its significance if the interracial angle falls through. . . . I should be able to get 2 or 3 stories out of the trip, one using pictures only of Greece and back for a typical trip, one using all pictures for an amazing trip and a very non-typical one, and one emphasizing the interracial aspect for Look or Ebony perhaps. It seems an opportunity impossible to pass up. It is almost the first and last time a person can make such a trip without paying a lot for it probably.”

From the album of fellow cowboy and photographer Paul Beard, courtesy of Heifer International.

“This trip means endless photographic opportunities, but alas, that means endless film. . . . I will be in Greece 3 different times for several days each time, at two ports in Africa with a chance to spend a few days ashore, each time we’ll go through Suez Canal, along Egypt, and when loaded, we may even go around Cape Horn and up western coast clear around Africa to save horses from the terrific heat of the Suez. The water temperature itself gets up to 90º they say.”

Next post: Life on board

In Memoriam

Another fifth Friday has rolled around, and with it a post remembering seagoing cowboys no longer with us.

Good, Ellis, January 10, 2022, Bourbonnais, Illinois. S. S. F. J. Luckenbach to Poland, January 15, 1946.

Guyer, C. Albert, February 28, 2022, Martinsburg, Pennsylvania. S. S. Mexican to Poland, November 8, 1945.

Kaufman, Lester, February 14, 2022, Millersburg, Ohio. S. S. Joshua Hendy to Poland, December 8, 1945.

Lammers, Richard Lewis, February 2, 2016, Pleasant Hill, Tennessee. S. S. Spartanburg Victory to Italy, March 17, 1947.

Layman, Wilbur Clement, January 24, 2022, Harrisonburg, Virginia. S. S. Charles W. Wooster to Greece, August 15, 1945; S. S. Bucknell Victory to Poland, February 16, 1946.

Morehouse, John, Jr., February 22, 2022, Goshen, Indiana. S. S. Lindenwood Victory to China, December 19, 1946.

Neuhauser, James Groff, January 8, 2022, San Juan, Puerto Rico. S. S. Pierre Victory to Poland, March 29, 1946; S. S. Plymouth Victory to Poland, May 11, 1946.

Schwartz, Arthur Edward, January 10, 2022, Henderson, North Carolina. S. S. Zona Gale to Yugoslavia (docking in Trieste, Italy), June 28, 1945; S. S. Frontenac Victory to Poland, June 6, 1946.

Shenk, Ellis, December 28, 2021, Bel Air, Maryland. S. S. American Importer to West Germany with the Heifer Project, November 7, 1953.

Stuntz, Hayward W., February 17, 2022, Plymouth, Indiana. S. S. Joshua Hendy to Poland, December 8, 1945.

Swords, Gene G., March 13, 2022, Lititz, Pennsylvania. S. S. Rockland Victory to Czechoslovakia (docking in Bremen, Germany), June 14, 1946.

Rest in peace, dear seagoing friends.

War Bride Stowed Away on Livestock Ship

An undated newspaper clipping in the Heifer International archives carries this headline:

“Bride, Made Up as Negro Boy By Husband, Signed as Cattle Steward, Stows Across Atlantic”

The article, written by Harry P. Moore, appeared in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, circa early November, 1946.

At the end of World War II, when American troops moved into Poland, US Army Captain Paul K. Cowgill met and fell in love with a young Polish war widow, Katrinsyka Spicyk. Early in the war, the Germans killed her husband and forced her into slave labor. After meeting Captain Cowgill in 1945, the couple courted for a few months and were married. After Cowgill returned to the United States, they had a dilemma—how would they get Katrinsyka there? They were told it could take weeks or months for her to get accommodations on a passenger ship, and she wouldn’t be allowed on a freighter.

Their transportation problem was solved when Cowgill, now out of the Army, signed on to the S.S. Edward W. Burton which he knew was bound for Poland. The UNRRA ship departed from Newport News, Virginia, September 28, 1946, with a load of 810 horses.

The ship that carried Captain Cowgill to Poland, September 1946. Photo by Nelson Watts.

“On the way to Europe,” Cowgill told Moore, “I looked the ship over carefully and finally decided that a good hiding place would be a big ventilator that was used to supply air to the cattle in the ship’s hold.” He removed some “bolts and minor obstructions” and crawled into the space himself to test it out. It would work.

On arrival in Gdansk, he looked up his wife. Now the question was how to get her on the ship. He realized that the only dark-skinned people the Poles see are those who come on the crews of the US merchant ships. “It occurred to me that it would be just the thing to disguise my wife as a Negro boy,” he said. When they were ready to go, he blacked her face and they went down to the ship.

“She was carrying a few packages and I was ordering her about to make the guard on the pier believe we both belonged on the ship,” he said. The ruse worked and he was able to get her inside the ventilator without being seen. He took a blanket to her, and there she stayed for five days, eating what food he could bring her.

Once the ship was in the Atlantic Ocean, with no possibility of Katrinsyka being taken off ship in Europe and sent back to Poland, the couple turned themselves in to the Captain who questioned them separately. “The girl appeared frightened despite her black face,” he said. Satisfied that their stories matched, he decided to give them a break. He took their statements, made copies, and had them signed. When the Edward W. Burton arrived in Newport News, Captain Simmons accompanied Mr. & Mrs. Cowgill to Norfolk to straighten everything out with immigration and customs officials.

Photo from the Norfolk-Virginian Pilot.

“I am happy now,” Mrs. Cowgill said, “glad to be in America. It is such a fine place. Everybody laughs and I shall laugh, too.”

If my research is correct, the couple died just months apart in 2009 and 2010 and are buried side by side in Arlington National Cemetery, with Katrinsyka having changed her name to Anna Anita and her maiden name being Prosniak.

 

Ten young seagoing cowboys from Okanogan County, Washington, on an errand of mercy: Part IV

The story of the Okanogan County, Washington, seagoing cowboys concludes in this post with their departure from Poland*:

When it came time to leave on January 7, 1946,Yoder noted in his journal, “There didn’t seem to be any regrets with us on ship. It was a bit touching however to watch the natives all stop working, regardless of what, and passionately watch our big ships slowly turn around and then head out toward the Baltic. They all stood watching along the shore or several blocks inland as if paralyzed.”

On the dock, Nowy Port, Poland, January 1946. Photo credit: Nelson Schumacher.

A few of those natives made it onto the ship. “We had three or four stowaways on board,” Henneman recalls. “So I’d feed ’em. Took bottles of water down to ’em.” He gave his phone number to one who spoke good English. “I says, if you make it off ship, call me up and say, ‘I made it! I made it! I made it!’ I said, I’ll know what you’re talking about. A few months after that, he phoned me up and he says, ‘I made it!’ I often wondered what kind of a citizen he made. I bet he was a good one.”

Photo credit: Eli Beachy.

The ship returned to Houston, Texas, where the cowboys waited for their $150 checks from UNRRA before seeing some sights and heading back to school.

Yoder and two other cowboys took in the World Champion Rodeo and Texas Fat Stock Show, February 1, 1946. Yoder says in his diary, “Tex Ritter was there and The Lone Ranger and horse ‘Silver.'” Photo credit: Paul Bucher.

With the world opened up to them, these young cowboys came back to Tonasket with a mission. In a program for the local Lions Club, the boys described the conditions they had seen, the distress of people trying to resume their lives amidst the wreckage of war, and how the children were particularly vulnerable. The Tonasket Times summed up the tenor of their message about the people of Europe: “Their cry for help, which in this country is voiced through such organizations as the Lions Club should meet with a generous response by well fed, well clothed Americans, who have never had to endure in comparable degree the suffering that is the lot of Europe today.” A fitting statement that should make even J. O. Yoder proud of those boys.

Eight of the Tonasket, Washington, seagoing cowboys. Front, L to R: Gerald Vandiver, Dave Henneman, Johnny Woodard; Back, L to R: Jack Fancher, Kenneth Lorz, Bruce Pickens, Bill Dugan, Mark Bontrager. Photographer unknown.

* Excerpted from my article published in the Okanogan County Heritage magazine, Winter 2014.

 

Ten young seagoing cowboys from Okanogan County, Washington, on an errand of mercy: Part III

The story of the Okanogan County, Washington, seagoing cowboys continues with their sobering arrival in Danzig, Poland, on December 27, 1945*:

The Clarksville Victory approaches the pier in Nowy Port, Poland, December 27, 1945. Photo by J. O. Yoder.

In an unidentified newspaper article, 16-year-old Fancher said, “You have to see that country to believe it. Everyone is hungry . . . The children are in rags and most of them have not been to school since the war started. You walk down the streets and they run up to you, holding out their hands and begging for food.” One of the images that still remains in Fancher’s mind today is that of seeing people on the street cutting steaks off of one of the mares that died.

Children following the seagoing cowboys in Gdansk, Poland, January 1946. Photo by Nelson Schumacher.

Henneman recalls that their ship had apples from Tonasket. “The labels on the box tell you where they come from, and who packed it. Somebody we knew packed them. You knew their number.” In Poland, he carried apples off the ship under his jacket and handed them out to people. “I guess it was stealing,” he said, “but we had plenty. They didn’t have any.” He bought other items that he carried off the ship and gave to people. The guards, who would normally shake someone down they suspected of carrying things off, would let him pass because they knew he was giving everything away.

Dave Henneman shares a story from J. O. Yoder’s book about their trip with Peggy Reiff Miller in 2014 interview. Photo by Sandra Brightbill.

Cigarettes were the prime black market commodity, and other cowboys learned they could buy cigarettes cheaply in the ship’s store and trade them for souvenirs. Or they could trade their dollars for Zloties to make their purchases. Dugan was able to obtain a violin which he still has and which he played for dances after he got home. Fancher brought home a little wooden box with a hand-carved lid.

Entertainment options in Danzig were slim. Dugan remembers visiting battlefields with ammunition and the bodies of unburied German soldiers still lying around. “Danzig is like some old Wild West town,” Fancher said in his newspaper interview. “It is full of Russian, Polish and British soldiers, and all the civilians carry guns–pistols, rifles or tommy-guns. There are a lot of shooting scrapes. Two English and four Russians were killed during the 14 days we were there, and some of our boys were held up and robbed of cigarets [sic] and American money.”

Exploring a battlefield near the docks in Poland, January 1946. Photo by Nelson Schumacher.

Fancher and John Woodard told the reporter, “one sight in Danzig was three times as horrible as the worst Boris Karloff movie.” Woodard explained, “That was the [building] the Germans used for human medical experiments. They showed us thru it . . . it was terrible. There were human bones all about, human skin that had been tanned, soap made from human fat . . . the smell was sickening . . . there were two petrified bodies . . .” The experience is one the cowboys do not like to talk about today. Their crew was one of only a few that were taken through the facility before it was put off limits.

Photo by Clarksville Victory fellow cowboy Eli Beachy, January 1946.

(to be continued)

* Excerpted from my article published in the Okanogan County Heritage magazine, Winter 2014.

Ten young seagoing cowboys from Okanogan County, Washington, on an errand of mercy: Part II

The story of the Okanogan County, Washington, seagoing cowboys continues*:

Bushy Pier, Brooklyn, New York, December 1945. Photo by J. O. Yoder.

[December 4, 1945,] the crew of 32 cowboys boarded the SS Clarksville Victory at Bushy Pier No. 1 in Brooklyn. Problems in getting the horses to the ship gave the crew eight days of relative leisure to explore the wonders of New York City. The cowboys also got to watch the loading of the ship. Bill Dugan recalls that the 742 horses were loaded one by one. Some were lifted by a large strap put around the body, others in wooden crates, to be lowered into the holds of the ship. One horse got away, taking a swim in the New York harbor, eventually getting out at another pier and being brought back to ship.

On a cold Wednesday, December 12, the Clarksville Victory finally headed out into the Atlantic. The first night out, in [supervisor J. O.] Yoder’s words, the sea was “a swirling mass of boiling tar. It is one continuous up-heaving body—full of vales and knolls.” The result: “At least 15 or 20 fellows fed the fish and were consequently quite useless.” Dave Henneman recalls being seasick that first day, but fine after that. Dugan and Jick Fancher were two of the lucky ones who never got sick.

The rolling Atlantic Ocean, December 1945. Photo by J. O. Yoder.

The crew settled into the work and rhythm of watering and feeding the horses, which Fancher says were all types and of all dispositions. Henneman recalls, “There was one big old horse, he was kind of ornery. He got a hold of my coat one day and picked me right up off my feet.” Henneman’s experience with horses soon brought horse and tender to an understanding for the remainder of the trip.

The Clarksville Victory was one of the Victory ships built in mass during the war to transport supplies and troops. An article in the Tonasket Times said, “The boys thought a lot of their ship, which seemed well built. . . . Their bunks, arranged in three tiers were in the gunners quarters, only instead of having guns to tend and possibly an enemy to fire on, as did the former crew, our lads were on an errand of mercy.”

The ship that carried the Okanogan County cowboys to Poland, December 1945. Photo by Paul Bucher.

Their ship served them well when they ran into a storm that Gerald Vandiver told the Spokane Daily Chronicle “put two cruisers, an aircraft carrier and three merchant ships in dry dock, but our ship, the Clarksville Victory, suffered no ill effects. However, some of the horses were thrown down and were unable to get up. Fifty horses died on the trip, most of them as a result of the storm.” Of the rough sailing, Dugan recalls, “We were kids yet, and we didn’t have sense enough to be afraid. Four more degrees [of roll] and the ship wouldn’t have come up.”

The route of the Clarksville Victory took the Washington boys up through the English Channel, past the White Cliffs of Dover, and through the Kiel Canal to the Baltic Sea.

A ferry crosses the Kiel Canal ahead of the Clarksville Victory, December, 1945. Photo by Paul Bucher.

They spent Christmas Day anchored in the harbor at Kiel, Germany, where they got their first real taste of war aftermath. Kiel, an industrial center for submarine building, was heavily bombed during the war. Fancher described the harbor as “just a bunch of ship stacks sticking up.”

Dave Henneman in a 2014 interview with Peggy Reiff Miller. Photo by Sandy Brightbill.

Their arrival in Danzig, Poland, on December 27 was equally as sobering.

(to be continued)

* Excerpted from my article published in the Okanogan County Heritage magazine, Winter 2014.