Sunday, July 17, 2011


In connection with my work-in-progress I asked my Uncle Richard about his experiences delivering cows to Poland after WWII.  He suggested I might want to connect with Peggy Reiff Miller. 
PeggyReiff Miller
Photo Credit:  Jean Williams

So I did.  And it turns out that Peggy has a whole website dedicated to seagoing cowboys

But what is a seagoing cowboy anyway?

After WWII United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration shipped food, clothing, and even livestock to European countries liberated from Axis powers.  And, of course, if you're going to ship cows and horses across the ocean, well you'll need cowboys to tend to them. 
Wilbur Stump delivering heifers to France aboard the SS Zona Gale, April 1946.
Photographer unknown.
I was interested in these fellows because  many of them were conscientious objectors to war - a topic I'm writing about.  I wanted to learn about the times and discover what took them to Europe when the war was over and they were not under obligation to the draft.

As it turns out, Peggy has a whole boatload of info she's been collecting from these former cowboys. The scope of her website is amazing with multiple pages dedicated to their memories, journals, and photographs of post-war Europe.
Cowboys board the SS Queens Victory in Newport News, Virginia, in June 1946 to deliver horses to Germany. Photographer unknown.
I just had to ask her about this.

Peggy, you've clearly spent a lot of time gathering stories and making them available to the general public.  Why?  What motivates you?

My original motivation was to learn what my deceased grandfather's trip to Poland might have been like so I could write a young adult novel about it. I started with one man I knew who had made one of the trips. One cowboy led to another, who led to another, and another. Each story was different, and all the stories were compelling. I realized an amazing history was hidden away in people's attics and drawers and minds. My mission quickly expanded from writing a novel to documenting this piece of long-forgotten history. Over the past nine years, I've interviewed over 150 cowboys from all over the country and been in contact with hundreds more. They have been both generous in their sharing and appreciative of being recognized. And they've become like family to me. I do it for them.
Peggy invites cowboys to share their stories in Des Moines, Iowa, June 2009.
Photo credit: Megan Oliver

And now that you've gathered all these stories, what are you doing with the info? How are you incorporating the cowboy stories into your writing?

I continue to work on my young adult novel about a 16-year-old seagoing cowboy to Poland, the first of a planned trilogy with the next trips to Greece and Germany. I've written and will continue to write articles for various magazines. I produced a DVD photostory documentary that I've used on a five-state tour to recognize the living cowboys. I have plans for a comprehensive nonfiction adult book about the seagoing cowboys and another on the related history of the first decade of the Heifer Project, today's Heifer International. I have enough material to keep me writing until I'm 110 and beyond! When I finish my projects, my collection of materials will go to the Brethren Historical Library and Archives so future historians will have access to it.

Sounds like we need to clone you. What are you working on now? Anything new and exciting in your writing life?

I've taken a break from my seagoing cowboy focus for a few months. I'm working on a picture book biography for grades 3-5 on Indiana author Gene Stratton-Porter. I became smitten with her when asked to lead a book discussion at my local library on her novel A GIRL OF THE LIMBERLOST. Her environmental message is as relevant today as it was in the early 1900s, and I felt compelled to tell her story. I'm also working on a picture book entitled BABY'S SONG inspired by my little grandson.

I do have an exciting development in my writing life. I have just won a grant from the Indiana Arts Commission that will enable me to attend the Big Sur Writer's Workshop in December, pending acceptance. The workshop will help me polish my novel to get one step closer to publication.

That's awesome, Peggy. You make me want to read Gene Stratton-Porter's books all over again. And congrats on the grant! 

Thanks for your interest in my writing and research, Joyce. I admire your work, including this blog, which is wonderful for us historical writers. I look forward to your next book!

Ha!  I do too.  It's taking a long time. But you know how time-consuming the research is. I can't imagine all the work you've put into collecting the cowboys' stories.  What a gift to them and their families. And also to your readers who would never know about them otherwise.

I'm so glad my uncle introduced me to you!


  1. What a fascinating post, Joyce. Seagoing cowboys. Never heard of them--but now I have! And what a great thing for Peggy to write about. Very, very cool. Off to facebook this!

  2. Carol, I knew that lots of COs had helped deliver cows to European countries after the war but I learned te term "seagoing cowboys" from Peggy.

    She feels like a kindred spirit and I hope to meet her this year.

  3. What an interesting aspect of WW II. Peggy sounds as facinating as the seagoing cowboys. It's good that the stories of COs in the war are coming out more and more.
    Can't wait to read your book, Joyce.

  4. Joyce, Thank you for this wonderful post about a much overlooked aspect of the aftermath of WWII. It's the first I've ever heard of this work or of the seagoing cowboys! Best wishes to Peggy! I'm sure you'll let us know when her book is in print.

  5. Thanks Clara - yes I know I can't wait to read the first of Peggy's cowboy stories.

    BTW - I have been unable to comment on yours (and SOME other) blogspots for quite awhile now. Can't seem to solve the problem. If I link to your terrific Susan Campbell Bartoletti post on Facebook will that qualify me for the contest?

  6. As always, great to hear from you, Alex! Fingers crossed for this book of mine. I am struggling but might actually be moving forward, now.

    We are going to enjoy Peggy's book too!

  7. Agree with all your previous posters on this one. A topic I knew nothing about but am now intrigued. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Augusta, lots of Quakers involved, I am sure!