MILLEDGEVILLE – It’s not every granddaughter who can say their grandpa was a cowboy, but Milledgeville native Peggy Miller can – though he was no ordinary cowboy.
His steed was a boat and he wore a lifejacket instead of a vest as he rode across the ocean to help people in nations devastated by war.
Today, Miller’s grandfather, Abe, is the inspiration for a children’s book published March 31, “The Seagoing Cowboy.”
Miller’s seagoing journey began in 1969, after the death of her grandfather. Her father gave her some photos of Abe’s 1946 trip to Poland.
Abe was among the men and boys recruited by the The Church of Bretheren who volunteered after World War II to tend the livestock shipped by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration to war-torn countries. As Miller writes on her book’s website, “they were students and farmers, bankers and preachers, laborers and teachers.”
While she knew of the seagoing cowboys, she had never heard her grandfather’s story and she wanted to know more. She filed that bit of family history away in the back of her mind, knowing it would someday make good fodder for a book.
Someday came after 14 years of research. Miller, 68, spent that time interviewing men and women who had been seagoing cowboys and she decided to document this little-known piece of history.
Her research resulted in “The Seagoing Cowboy,” which follows two young men as they travel on a ship to Poland. One cares for horses, the other cares for heifers on the weeks-long journey.
She has been researching, writing and speaking about the seagoing cowboys since 2002, and has accumulated information through interviews, questionnaires, diary accounts, photos and movies of their trips. She said when she gets done with her writing projects, she’ll donate the wealth of information she’s accumulated to the Brethren Historical Library and Archives.
In addition to her interest for seagoing cowboys, Miller has always had an interest in writing children’s books.
“I’ve been interested in writing for children ever since my twin daughters were little,” Miller said. Her twin girls, Margo Royer-Miller and Abbie Miller, are now 35-years-old. She’s written several magazine articles about seagoing cowboys, but this is the first book she’s published.
Miller, who lives in Goshen, Indiana, with her husband, Rex, 68, grew up in Milledgeville, where she graduated from Milledgeville High School in 1965. She earned her undergraduate degree in health and physical education from Manchester University in Indiana and her master’s degree in education leadership from Western Michigan University.
“Peggy is a world expert in seagoing cowboys,” said publisher Wendy McFadden of Brethren Press, the publishing house of the Church of the Brethren in Elgin.
McFadden said the book is selling pretty well so far.
“We started publicizing the book last year to the congregation of the Church of the Brethren,” McFadden said. “We also sent information to hundreds of seagoing cowboys. They appreciate the work she does.”
“Like my grandfather, many seagoing cowboys never talked about their experience with their grandchildren,” Miller said. “With this book, I wanted to give families a tool to share the story with the younger generation. It’s a story of how people helped to repair a broken world after a major war.”
"The Seagoing Cowboy" ($18.99 hardcover; 40 pages; ages 4 to 8) is available through Brethren Press by calling 1-800-441-3712 or at brethrenpress.com.
Go to seagoingcowboys.com for more information on the book.