Heifer Project’s goodwill mission to Puerto Rico, 1945

CPSer Carl Epp and Rufus King prepare to unload Heifer Project cattle in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in May 1945. Photo courtesy of Carl Epp.

Seventy-four years ago this month, the second shipment the Heifer Project made to Puerto Rico, with 45 heifers and 5 bulls, arrived in San Juan, May 25, 1945. But why Puerto Rico? people ask. Weren’t the Heifer Project animals being raised intended for Europe?

Yes, they were. But while these cattle were being gathered in April, World War II was still in motion, making shipping across the Atlantic impossible. Heifer Project had animals ready to send and needed to find a place for them. The Brethren Service Committee, which oversaw the Heifer Project, had connections in Puerto Rico. They were in charge of the Civilian Public Service Unit #43, the Brumbaugh Reconstruction Unit. This unit was formed in December 1943 to address community needs of medical care, public health, and social service on this poverty-stricken island.

Rufus King, Director of the Unit, reported in the Gospel Messenger (May 19, 1945):

Puerto Rico is one of the most thickly populated areas in the world. It has 550 people per square mile; two million people on an island 100 miles long and 35 miles wide. Only 20 per cent of the land is owned or tenanted by individual farmers, although sixty-seven per cent of the population is rural. The result of this situation is extreme poverty, ignorance, disease and malnutrition.

Puerto Rico became the logical place for Heifer Project to send its animals. The Brumbaugh Reconstruction Unit had two projects where cattle were placed, a Brethren project in the mountain village of Castañer and a Mennonite project in the coastal area of La Plata. Both projects had built hospitals. Each project received six heifers and one bull to form the nucleus of a herd to support the hospital work and the CPS workers.

The cattle pens at Castañer, Puerto Rico, date unknown. Photo by Dean Kagarise, Tom Lehman collection.

Carl Epp and Harry Martins with Heifer Project cattle at La Plata, Puerto Rico. 1945. Photo courtesy of Carl Epp.

The Brumbaugh Reconstruction Unit worked closely with the Puerto Rican Restoration Administration (PRRA) which helped set up homesteads for farm laborers. Eleven animals from this shipment went to PRRA recipients in the La Plata area. The remaining 25 were distributed to selected Puerto Rican farmers through the Farm Security Administration.

Puerto Rican farmers receive their heifers from the PRRA allotment, May 1945. Photo courtesy of Carl Epp.

Rufus King summarizes the import of the overall work in Puerto Rico in his Gospel Messenger article:

We know we have only scratched the surface, but we Brethren must give ourselves a fair opportunity to demonstrate what can be done toward building up the body, mind and spirit of a people in one area of Puerto Rico; we must give ourselves a fair chance to see the fruits of our efforts in developing a spirit of initiative and co-operation among a people and in helping them to help themselves. This takes time, more time than the few years of the war period can afford.

Angel Perez Rodriguez with male calf born to Heifer Project cow, Castañer, Puerto Rico, 1946. Photo courtesy of Don Sollenberger.

Men at odds on a mission of goodwill

Dedication of Heifer Project cattle to be sent to Puerto Rico. York (PA) fairgrounds, April 29, 1945. Photo credit: Heifer International archives.

Seventy-four years ago this weekend, some 700 people gathered at the fairgrounds in York, Pennsylvania. The occasion? Dedication of 45 heifers and 5 bulls to be sent to Puerto Rico. The Church of the Brethren Gospel Messenger (May 26, 1945) reported:

At one end of the fair grounds, we are told, implements were being readied for war and for the conquest by force while at the other end these cattle were being dedicated to goodwill and to conquest by love and understanding.

Unfortunately, the two cattle tenders who accompanied these animals did not exemplify the latter. This created a royal headache for Rufus King, Director of the Civilian Public Service Unit #43 in Puerto Rico, the Brumbaugh Reconstruction Unit. King had the job of receiving the cattle and entertaining the cattle tenders while they were on the island.

For the purpose of this post, I’ll call the men Cowboy A and Cowboy B. This unfortunate pairing became a learning experience for the fledgling Heifer Project Committee. When Cowboy B made his report to the committee after the trip, his recommendation number 6 read: “The shipment should be in charge of some one person.” And therein, I believe, lies the crux of the problem.

In a letter to family, King characterized Cowboy A as “a retired farmer who at 66 still works hard and gets irked when any one around him can’t work as hard.” Cowboy B, whom King characterized as “a very successful farmer and good man, but of the managerial type,” got sick on board and could not do his share of the work. Cowboy A, having been put in charge of the cattle at York, may have assumed he would also be in charge on the ship.

The cattle had been trucked overnight to Brooklyn, New York, on May 16. The next morning, they were loaded into sheds on the top deck of the S. S. James Wetmore. The ship departed at 6:30 a.m., May 19, giving Cowboy A and Cowboy B a full week together before arriving in San Juan May 25.

“The upshot of it all,” King says, “was that these Brethren on a mission of goodwill were mighty tired of each other and parted company soon after their arrival!  Individually, I enjoy the company of each and we have entertained each of them separately here at the house for meals.”

To Heifer Project leaders, King wrote, “It is indeed very disgusting to have a shipment of ‘good will’ sent by the Brethren and those Brethren sent to care for the cattle can not get along between themselves and therefore do not represent the basic idea back of the gift. How can we build a new world when we as individuals refuse to lie down in the same pasture?”

The cattle, on the other hand, DID exemplify the goodwill the Heifer Project Committee intended. More on that in my next post.

Conditions in Puerto Rico, 1944 or 1945. Photo by Rufus King, courtesy of the King family.

A Seagoing Cowboy evaluates his trip to Europe

The last days of June 1945 were a busy time for UNRRA and the Brethren Service Committee. In six days’ time, they had five livestock ships complete with seagoing cowboy crews on their way to Europe – three to Greece and two that docked in Trieste, Italy, with animals for Yugoslavia. The fifth was the Liberty ship Zona Gale with 31-year-old Clarence H. Rosenberger on board.

Crew of the SS Zona Gale

The seagoing cowboy crew of the SS Zona Gale en route to Yugoslavia, July 1945. Clarence Rosenberger is the man on the left leaning against the rail. Photo courtesy of Weldon Klepinger

Clarence was the pastor of the Church of the Brethren in Shelocta, Pennsylvania, at the time. He wrote the following reflection on his trip that appeared in the September 22, 1945, Gospel Messenger, the magazine of the Church of the Brethren.

A “Cowboy” Evaluates the Trip to Europe With Relief Cattle

Our experiences as “the cowboys of the S. S. Zona Gale” is at an end. As I look back I can begin to appreciate what a wonderful opportunity we’ve had.

Primarily, we filled a pressing need by aiding in the moving of relief goods to war-stricken people. Stock tenders are almost impossible to find around a seaport and we spanned the gap. We have the satisfaction of knowing that the stock we cared for is now helping to provide food for hundreds of people.

Some of us whose consciences will not permit us to further the war effort found in this an opportunity to serve Christ, our nation and mankind in a constructive way.

As a result of observation and study, I have gained at least a bit of insight into the physical, economic and political needs of Europe. I have begun to appreciate how much of our good fortune in the United States is due to a combination of circumstances.

We’ve also had the opportunity of knowing intimately hundreds of soldiers and sailors. [The Zona Gale, like the F. J. Luckenbach and the Virginian, picked up soldiers in Naples to bring them home.] We’ve talked with them frankly. We’ve heard their problems, fears and anticipations. We’ve heard of experiences under fire on land and sea. We’ve shared the danger of mine-infested seas.

Finally, we’ve had the opportunity of knowing the joy that comes with setting foot once again on good American soil.

These first trips were a sort of feeling of their way for the Brethren Service Committee as they decided how much of a commitment they wanted to make in servicing UNRRA’s cattle attendant needs. Reflections of the cowboys like this one no doubt helped the B.S.C. sign on for the long haul.

Article used by permission, http://www.brethren.org/messenger.

Next post: The cowboys mingle with soldiers.