How Six Would-be Seagoing Cowboys Miss Out on Going to Spain


Dan West

Dan West dreams of sending Heifer’s to Spain. Image source unknown.

In 1944, the Heifer Project was well under way. The dangerous World War II waters of the Atlantic Ocean prevented Dan West’s vision of sending cows to Spain, so the first heifers were shipped to Puerto Rico that July. By that time, hopes were high that the war in Europe would end soon, and the possibility for shipping to Spain became real. The Heifer Project Committee and staff began making plans.

With heifers successfully delivered to Puerto Rico, momentum in the grassroots of the organization was strong. Churches, Sunday Schools, and public school children were catching the vision. Excitement was high as witnessed in an Ohio newspaper report.

Heifer for Spain

Photo from an unidentified Ohio newspaper, circa late summer 1944. From l. to r., Wayne Hostetler who headed the Northeast Ohio Heifer Project Committee, Mrs. Paul W. Fike, Mrs. Lester Newman. Courtesy of Wayne Hostetler family.

“Joy, the heifer in the picture above will probably be milked by Spanish milkmaids this winter,” the article began. “The heifer was bought by money saved by the primary and junior boys and girls of the Church of the Brethren, Third street…. They began [in January] with a missionary fund of $32.17 and setting a goal of $2 per week, raised $101.17, enough to buy the heifer for $100.”

The Brethren Service Committee worked out details with the Spanish government through the Spanish embassy in Washington, D.C. to donate up to 150 head of high-grade bred heifers of Holstein, Guernsey, and Jersey stock. “For every 25 head of cattle we should like to have the privilege of sending one person in order to adequately care for the animals enroute,” wrote BSC Executive M.R. Zigler October 2, 1944, in a lengthy proposal to Miquel Echegaray, Executive Attache for Spain. In the proposed agreement, the BSC would pay the costs for getting the heifers and cattle attendants to the ship, and the Spanish government would pay the shipping and feed costs for both heifers and humans from there.

“You may consider this an official offer of the Brethren Service Committee,” Zigler wrote. “You have suggested that these cattle might be shipped the first part of November. In order to do that we must, as soon as possible if the project has been accepted, make preparation for gathering together and preparing the cattle for shipment.”

The Brethren Service and Heifer Project Committees moved forward on faith, and soon six men were lined up to go as cattle tenders: Ira Blocher, Luther Hall, Orville Hersch, Wayne Hostetler, Russell Johnson, Paul Phillips, and Ivan Syler. Benjamin Bushong was to go as the BSC representative to the Spanish government and people. Instructions were sent to the men for obtaining their passports and necessary inoculations.

Heifers in the right state of pregnancy were readied in Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland for shipping to an as-yet-undetermined location in Pennsylvania near the port of Philadelphia from which the ship would depart. Then on October 30, the telegram arrived from Spanish Embassy Attache Echegaray:


BSC staffer Eldon Burke wrote to the would-be cowboys November 1:

The Spanish government has informed us that because of conditions in Spain, it will be impossible for them to accept our cattle at the present time. I suppose that you have noted that rebellion has arisen once more in Spain and this is probably what the Spanish embassy had in mind when it communicated with us. Further information is that Stalin has asked that Franco be pushed out of office. If this is true, the Spanish shipment will be indefinitely delayed.”

As it was.

This left the Heifer Project in limbo, “all dressed up and nowhere to go,” so to speak, disappointing, through no fault of its own, all those boys and girls who had faithfully brought in their coins to send Joy to Spain.

But Heifer Project Executive Secretary Marvin Senger remained undaunted. In an October 31 letter relaying the telegram text to Wayne Hostetler, he said, “Just now the only shipment that may develop in the near future is that of sending three heifers and a bull to Mexico. However, if the war in Europe should end this fall, it may be possible for a shipment for Belgium to get under way next summer.”


Next post: How an unlikely government/church partnership created the seagoing cowboy program.

Heifer Project’s First Seagoing Cowboy


It’s impossible to tell the seagoing cowboy story without also telling the story of the Heifer Project, the forerunner to today’s Heifer International. The seagoing cowboy program and the Heifer Project were linked through their relationship to the Brethren Service Committee, the outreach arm of the Church of the Brethren, begun in 1941. (More about that connection in another post.)

The Heifer Project was the brain child of Church of the Brethren staff worker and gentleman farmer Dan West. He was sent to Spain in 1937 to help in a Quaker relief project during the Spanish Civil War. After observing inadequate supplies of reconstituted powdered milk being doled out to infants with those not gaining weight being taken off the list to die, West came home to his Indiana farm in early 1938 with the idea of sending cows to Spain. With “a cow, not a cup,” people would be able to help themselves.

Dan West

Dan West, founder of Heifer International. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

For four years, West relentlessly promoted this idea to neighbors, church members, church leaders, and government officials. Finally, in April 1942, the Church of the Brethren Men’s Work of Northern Indiana adopted his plan, which in a short time became a national program of the Brethren Service Committee known as “The Heifer Project.”

(A heifer by Dan West’s definition is “a cow-not-yet,” that is, a cow before it gives birth to its first calf. Pronounced heffer.)

A grassroots effort from the start, local committees were formed and heifers were donated and raised. But World War II was raging, and the animals couldn’t be shipped to Spain. So the first shipment went to Puerto Rico where the Brethren had a Civilian Public Service unit, the Martin G. Brumbaugh Reconstruction Unit, that put conscientious objectors to work during the war in one of the poorest sections of the island.

First Heifer Project shipment, June 1944

                                                Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

Eighteen heifers were collected at the Nappanee, Indiana, stockyards on June 7, 1944, 70 years ago this summer. The fifteen Guernseys, two Jerseys, and one Milking Shorthorn were given shots for shipping fever and on June 12 were loaded into a ventilated box car partitioned for cattle. Four days later, they arrived by train in Mobile, Alabama, along with their caretaker, Marvin Senger, the first paid staff person of the Heifer Project. On June 26, Senger was joined by Wayne Hostetler, a young Brethren farmer from Orrville, Ohio, who was the volunteer administrator for the Northern Ohio Heifer Project Committee. Senger returned home, and Hostetler became Heifer’s first seagoing cowboy before there was such a designation, making the trip to Puerto Rico at his own expense.

Shipping delays kept the heifers at the stockyards in Mobile for nearly a month. The day the heifers arrived, one gave birth to a bull calf at the stockyards, then became sick five days later. She was kept behind at the nearby farm of the Brethren Petcher family to recover, while her calf took her place on the SS William D. Bloxham, a brand new Liberty ship making its first voyage. (More about Liberty ships in a later post.)

In Mobile, Hostetler obtained his Merchant Marine papers making him a “Seaman with cattle man rating, salary 1 cent per month,” a formality to make it legal for him to work on the ship. On his return to Indiana, Marvin Senger reported to the Heifer Project Committee that the Brethren Service Committee was charged $15.00 for Hostetler’s fare. “Signed for $5000 life insurance,” he told them, “to be paid by the government in case ship is destroyed and Wayne should lose his life due to enemy action.”

These were dangerous times to be shipping cattle.

Next post: Hostetler’s report to the Heifer Project Committee on his return. As recorded by the secretary, it begins: “He was glad for the trip, but doubtful that he would have promised if he had had a whole day to think it over.”

Sources for Hostetler’s story: “Heifers for Relief” Newsletter Number 1, July 28, 1944; Heifer Project Committee Minutes, July 9, 1944.