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.
“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:
DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE OF SPAIN HAS JUST ADVISED ME THAT DUE TO THE UTTER IMPOSSIBILITY TO CHARTER A BOAT NOW WHICH WOULD FULFILL THE NECESSARY STANDARDS FOR SHIPMENT OF LIVESTOCK WITH DEEPEST REGRET CANNOT ACCEPT YOUR GENEROUS OFFER FOR NEEDY FARMERS OF SPAIN….
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.