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!

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German children experience THE SEAGOING COWBOY at Upper Silesian Museum

The Upper Silesian Museum (Oberschlesisches Landesmuseum) in Ratingen, Germany, has been displaying an exhibit on the seagoing cowboys since December 2015 as part of their “Food for Body and Soul” exhibit (see post of December 11). As a result, many people in Germany are learning about the seagoing cowboys and the Heifer Project, including German children who participated in a special program this summer using my picture book, The Seagoing Cowboy. Eliska Hegenscheidt-Nozdrovicka, the museum’s education director, has sent me some delightful photos from their summer experience that I share with you here. I’m happy to say that the exhibit, originally scheduled to run through mid-October, has been extended into February next year.

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My book The Seagoing Cowboy on display at the museum.

 

 

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The children are introduced to the topic “Nourishment in times of crisis.”

 

 

 

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Eliska tells the story of the seagoing cowboys with the help of my book.

 

 

 

 

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Looking up the travelling route from Baltimore to Gdansk with the kids.

 

 

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Reconstructing the story through historical photos.

 

 

 

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The children make their own ships to transport their heifers.

 

 

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The ships take off from Baltimore…

 

 

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including a shipping mishap.

 

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The ships dock in Gdansk.

 

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And the heifers are offloaded. All is well.

 

 

 

 

What a delightful program. Wish I could have been there! Thanks Eliska for sharing this experience with me and allowing me to share it with my readers.

I’d be happy to know how others are using the book.

 

Seagoing Cowboys provide food for body and soul

A heifer comes on board the S,S, Charles W. Wooster in January 1946 to begin its journey to Czechoslovakia.

A heifer comes on board the S,S, Charles W. Wooster in January 1946 to begin its journey to Czechoslovakia. Photo credit: Christian Kennel.

January 7, 1946, the S.S. Charles W. Wooster, left Baltimore, Maryland, with 325 heifers on board. The cattle were on their way to help families in Czechoslovakia recover from the trauma of World War II. 175 of the heifers were gifts of American Christians sent by the Heifer Project for the neediest farmers in Upper Silesia. The remainder were sent by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration which made numerous shipments of horses and heifers to Czechoslovakia and Poland in 1945 to 1947.

The S.S. Charles W. Wooster docked in Bremen, Germany, to offload heifers to be sent to Czechoslovakia in January 1946. Photo credit: Christian Kennel.

The S.S. Charles W. Wooster docked in Bremen, Germany, to offload heifers to be sent to Czechoslovakia in January 1946. Photo credit: Christian Kennel.

This week, in Ratingen, Germany, the Upper Silesia Museum (Oberschlesisches Landesmuseum) has opened an exhibit, “For Body and Soul: from the culture of food and drink,” in which this history is remembered. One of the topics covered in the exhibition is strategies of providing nourishment in times of shortage and crisis, and it’s in that context that the seagoing cowboys and the Heifer Project are being introduced to museum goers. It has been my pleasure and privilege to provide the museum with the images to tell this piece of their history.

Seagoing cowboy display at the Upper Silesia Museum, Ratingen, Germany. Photo courtesy of Oberschlesisches Landesmuseum.

Seagoing cowboy display at the Upper Silesia Museum, Ratingen, Germany. Photo courtesy of Oberschlesisches Landesmuseum.

Heifer Project brochures on display at the Upper Silesia Museum. Photo courtesy of Oberschesisches Landesmuseum.

Heifer Project brochures on display at the Upper Silesia Museum. Photo courtesy of Oberschesisches Landesmuseum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The exhibit runs through October 15, 2016, so if you’re in Germany between now and then, stop in and take a look!

A recipient expresses thanks for their heifer. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

A recipient expresses thanks for their heifer. Courtesy of Heifer International.

Thank you letter translation. Courtesy of Heifer International..

Thank you letter translation. Courtesy of Heifer International..