"Swords Into Plowshares: How the Seagoing Cowboys Helped Repair a Broken World" will be presented by Peggy Reiff Miller at 6 p.m. on Sunday, April 29, at Siloam Fellowship. The church is located at the intersection of SR 4 and CR 35 in Goshen.
This event is the last one in the "Peace and Popcorn" winter series planned by Menno-Hof, the Amish-Mennonite information center located in Shipshewana. As part of the program, residents of Northern Indiana who served as “seagoing cowboys” will have an opportunity to share highlights from their trips.
Miller, a writer from Milford, Ind., will bring to life the long-forgotten history of livestock shipments made following World War II to countries devastated by the war. "Over 7,000 men and boys ages 16 to 72 signed on to serve as ‘seagoing cowboys,’ as the cattle tenders for these trips were dubbed," Miller stated. "Of these, nearly 1,000 were Mennonite, many were Brethren, and some were Amish. They tended animals sent by UNRRA (the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) and the Heifer Project between 1945 and 1947.
“The ships used were mostly Liberty and Victory ships built for use in World War II that were converted into livestock carriers – a 'swords into plowshares' story," Miller said. "Life aboard ship and in port was full of drama, humor, and danger. The trips were a window to a hurting world for the cowboys that led many of them into service-oriented occupations and lifetimes of working for peace."
The Heifer Project, which was the catalyst for the seagoing cowboy program, was started by the Church of the Brethren Men's Work of Northern Indiana in 1942. Indiana church leader Dan West, on his return from distributing powdered milk to victims of the Spanish Civil War in 1938, sparked the interest of area farmers. West's idea to send “a cow, not a cup” caught on, and farmers began raising heifers for the cause.
With World War II raging, transporting heifers to Europe was impossible. The creation of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) by 44 countries at the close of the war provided the means for the Brethren to obtain free shipping for their heifers. In return, the Brethren agreed to provide all of the cattle attendants needed for UNRRA's planned shipments of livestock to replenish Europe's devastated herds.
Miller has spent the past 10 years traveling around the country, interviewing and documenting the stories of the seagoing cowboys. She has produced a DVD, “A Tribute to the Seagoing Cowboys,” and is working on several books about this history. More information can be found at www.seagoingcowboys. com.