Swarthmore College Peace Collection

Seagoing Cowboys

Notes by Anne M. Yoder, Archivist, SCPC

World War II brought much devastation to all the countries where it was fought, as populations and livestock were killed, or were starving in the war's aftermath from widespread famine. In response, the Brethren Service Committee (BSC) of the Church of the Brethren sponsored a Heifer Project, to transfer donated heifers belonging to Brethren farmers to needy peoples. At the same time, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) was working, since its creation in November 1943, to provide much-needed food and agricultural supplies to its allies. In September 1945, UNRRA was shipping material aid to the Balkans, Eastern Europe, the Far East, Austria, Italy, Formosa and Korea. In February 1946, they were recruiting personnel for their efforts in China. An alliance was formed between the BSC and UNRRA to facilitate their common goals.

As early as 1944 it was conceived that men in Civilian Public Service (CPS) could be a good source of manpower for these endeavors. At first, it was thought that they could be recruited to work as administrators of the UNRRA program overseas, but this did not work out. It was not until 1946 that CPSers were assigned to work, becoming part of the CPS Reserve, and this was specifically as stockmen helping to deliver cattle and horses to war-torn countries. (Between the summers of 1945 and 1947, over 7,000 men and boys – from all walks of life – volunteered as "seagoing cowboys.")

In all, 366 CPSers served on ships in 1946 that sailed from Newport News or Norfolk, Virginia, to Europe. Of these, 154 were from the Mennonite Church, 62 from the Church of the Brethren, 46 from the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), 32 from the Methodist Church, 10 from the Amish Church, and the rest from a scattering of denominations and peace organizations. Their ages ranged from 19 to 33. Approximately two men made four trips, eighteen made three trips, ninety-one made two trips, and the rest made one trip. They were discharged from Civilian Public Service after their last voyage, as if they had remained in a CPS camp the whole time.

Some thirty or so ships were used as livestock carriers. The CPSers served on (at least) the following ships:

SS Abel Parker Upsher (2/28/46 - )
SS Joshua Hendy (3/3/46 -)
SS Woodstock Victory (3/3/46 - 4/7/46)
SS Crittenden (3/6/46 -  )
SS Park Victory (3/9/46 -  )
SS Samuel A. Walker (3/12/46 -  )
SS Henry Dearborn (3/18/46 -  )
SS Pas Christian (3/21/46 -  )
SS F.J. Luckenbach (3/23/46 -  )
SS Lindenwood Victory (3/27/46 -  )
SS Plymouth Victory (3/28/46 -  )
SS Pierre Victory (3/29/46 -  )
SS Cedar Rapids Victory (3/30/46 -  )
SS Morgantown Victory (4/2/46 -  )
SS Edward W. Burton (4/6/46 -  )
SS William S. Halstead (4/9/46 -  )
SS Norwalk Victory (4/10/46 -  )
SS Virginian (4/11/46 -  )
SS Wesley W. Barrett (4/12/46 -  )
SS Charles W. Wooster (4/17/46 -  )
New Windsor [date unknown]

[List "Location of Men in CPS Reserve on April 8, 1946"]

The Swarthmore College Peace Collection (SCPC) has a small amount of material on UNRRA and the seagoing cowboys in the following archival collections:
American Friends Service Committee: Civilian Public Service Records (DG 002)
-- Part I, Series M,5, Box 40d & 41a
-- Part 5, Boxes 15 & 18
Center on Conscience and War Records (DG 025)
-- Series A, Boxes 65, 77 & 85
-- Series B, Boxes 20 & 106
-- Series D, Boxes 2 & 3
Subject File: Civilian Public Service - seagoing cowboys
Periodical Collection
-- Marine Bull Pen, No. 1 (March 29, 1946) - No. 10 (August 29, 1946)
Audiovisual Collection
-- DVD "A Tribute to the Seagoing Cowboys" by Peggy Reiff Miller
Photograph Collection
-- Photos of ship/s (including the SS Plymouth Victory); groups of CPSers (and other workers?); horses and cows in paddocks and on board ship(?), with attendants; scenes of people and buildlings in China; and, scenes of people and of bombed buildings in Europe. [located in Subject File (5"x7") collective images box]

The following are quotes from memos and letters found in the above collections/sources.
In September 8, 1944 UNRRA General Bulletin No. 69: "Citizens of the United States classified as conscientious objectors who have not been inducted into service may be employed by UNRRA or may be accepted as a voluntary relief worker in connection with the carrying out of the Administration's program, provided (1) they possess the professional, technical, or administrative qualifications required for positions for which they are considered, (2) they satisfy the conditions for requesting reclassification into Class IIA (occupationally deferred), and (3) the duties of the position are such that they may be effectively performed by a conscientious objector." [DG 025, Series A, Box 77]

In December 21, 1944 memo from Claude Shotts to Paul Comly French: "Discussed relationship of BCS and UNRRA, so that BCS clothing and heifer collection would be sufficiently related to a government agency to enable Colonel Kosch to assign CPS men to the work of collecting, bundling and storing relief clothing. Some BCS and other religious volunteer agencies chose not to be allied with UNRRA." [DG 025, Series D, Box 3]

In August 29, 1945 letter from Claude Shotts to Harland Gibson, he relates how the Starnes Amendment to the 1945-1946 Appropriation Bill was renewed, and a bill introduced by Congressman Winstead (prohibiting the discharge of CPS men for any reason so long as combat troops were in the Army), meant that Selective Service had decided to withdraw its earlier proposal to discharge as many as 75 CPS men to work with UNRRA and the church agencies in overseas relief. "At the moment it looks as though we will have to wait until are discharged through regular channels before they can accept positions with UNRRA." [DG 025, Series D, Box 2]

In NSBRO Camp Director's Bulletin No. 170, [unknown month and day] 1946: "Livestock attendants are require to feed, water, and care for approximately 25 animals per attendant. Heifers, horses, and some cows will be included in shipments.... During the time men are at sea they are under the legal authority of the captain of the ship, and when ashore they will be under the control of UNRRA. Administrative responsibility for the handling of crews has been delegated, under contract, by UNRRA to the Relief Section of the Brethren Service Committee and will be under the direction of Ben Bushong, New Windsor, Maryland.... Men will receive $150 per trip. All men will be required to pay transportation home at the time of discharge.... Men will be required to obtain seaman's papers from the Coast Guard and must pass the physical examination of the War Shipping Administration." [DG 025, Series B, Box 160]

In January 26, 1946 letter from Paul Comly French to Harold Row (Brethren Service Committee): "As far as I can see, the information you have is based on a program worked out by the Friends which I doubt was ever officially accepted by Selective Service. As I understand the situation, individuals apply for IIA deferment and attempt to secure the approval of their local board. In the event they fail to get it, appeals are filed and eventually taken to the Presidential Appeal Board. If a IIA is obtained, then it is necessary to secure seaman's papers from the Coast Guard and have a physical examination under the War Shipping Administration." [DG 025, Series A, Box 85]

In NSBRO Camp Director's Bulletin No. 170 Supplement, February 1, 1946: "Medical standards set by the War Shipping Administration for selecting applicants [include]: Reject men less than 60 in. and more than 76 in. tall. Reject obese men [such as] weighing more than 225 lbs. at 66 in. tall." [DG 025, Series B, Box 160]

In April 5, 1946 letter from Edwin R. Henson (Agricultural Rehabilitation Division) to Colonel Lewis F. Kosch (Social Security Administration): "The Livestock Shipping Program of UNRRA and the valuable assistance you have given us in the past by releasing conscientious objectors to serve as cattle tenders measure up to our objective.... I would like to point out that our experience with these boys has been eminently satisfactory. They are reliable and conscientious and we are not confronted with the task of obtaining fresh recruits each time a vessel returns to the United States." [DG 025, Series B, Box 160]

In April 24, 1946 letter from J.N. Weaver to Benjamin Bushong (Brethren Relief Center): "So far, applications for the U.N.R.R.A. Reserve, on the basis of our latest Supplement to Camp Directors Bulletin No. 170, has not been too strong. If we fail in securing 100 volunteers, it may be necessary to secure Selective Service consent to lower the eligibility requirements." [DG 025, Series B, Box 160]

In May 1, 1946 NSBRO Camp Director's Bulletin No. 170 – Supplement C from J.N. Weaver: "Men to be eligible must have been assigned to CPS on or before October 31, 1944, and have served continuously therein since that date. Men who have had 18 months service in CPS as of this date are thus eligible to apply for transfer to the Civilian Public Service Reserve.... [E]ach applicant [must] include in his letter of request to Colonel Kosch a statement of willingness to make at least one trip prior to discharge from the Reserve." [DG 025, Series B, Box 160]

In May 1, 1946 letter/report by Gordon _____: "You know about the demand for fellows to assist in the UNRRA project of sending horses and cattle to Europe. After finishing my work at Manchester College early in March, I headed for the east coast; on March 28, I found myself boarding the S.S. Plymouth Victory at Newport News, Va. On board were some 30 attendants and 792 other horses, with a trip to Poland ahead. Our work was varied and interesting. In addition to the daily chores of feeding and watering our individual quotas of 35 horses, we had to keep fairly close to them from 6:30 A.M. to 7:30 P.M. -- look for signs of sickness, call one of the veterinarians when necessary, help take care of the sick ones and move the dead ones (the ship's pully [sic] system did a neat job of it), haul grain up, via the pulley (hand-operated one) system, from the 'basement,' adjust dislocated halters, and so on...." (Letter includes descriptions of Danzig, and the sufferings of the people there, especially of women.) [DG 002, Series M,5, Box 41a]

In May 4, [1946] letter by Bob Forthman: "It's good news that the A.F.S.C. is getting workers into Germany. I have no particular skills to offer except a desire for brotherhood and understanding.... The trip itself was rather monotonous; we left Norfolk Mar. 20, loaded with 375 heifers & tons of jams & peanut butter. (Arrived back in Baltimore May 1st.) With the exception of the first three days, the work was fairly easy. The schedule was something like this: up at 7:00 A.M. -- feed cows chop (i.e., mixture of soy meal & cotton seed). Breakfast 7:30 -- feed cows hay and water, then haul up fresh hay, straw, & chop from hold with block and tackle. This was usually done by 10:30 or 11. Lunch at 11:30. In the afternoon we have to start work until 2:30 or 3 depending on how long it took us to rake the manure out of our cows' stalls, bed them with straw, feed chop - hay & water. Some times we had to come back after supper & work to 6:00 or 6:30. However we did not throw the manure overboard nor thoroughly clean the stalls until we got in port. On some ships this is done daily, and therefore the job is considerably harder. In Breman (April 6) the Germans were glad to get the manure and did a very good job of cleaning out for us.... I couldn't believe my eyes as I walked through the miles and miles of ruins. One just can't describe the sence [sic] of desolation and futility of material civilization." [DG 002, Series M,5, Box 41a]

In June __, 1946 letter from Robert S. Zigler (The Heifer Project Committee) to Richard Doyle: "The Brethren Service Committee has been designated by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration as a recruiting agent for their cattleboat program. It is our duty to find and approve men to serve in this capacity. These men care for horses or cows while they are being shipped to the warn torn areas of Europe." [DG 025, Series B, Box 160]

For more information on seagoing cowboys, see http://www.seagoingcowboys.com/ by Peggy Reiff Miller.

This page written November 2, 2010; updated on December 12, 2012