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Horses for Europe


“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” is a saying that was especially true following World War Two. Since tractors took over for horses in the fields, many farmers were left with horses they couldn’t get rid of. According to the Mandan Pioneer, North Dakota farmers had found an outlet for their extra burden.

On this day in 1946, North Dakota was in the process of gathering horses from across the state to ship to Europe. There had been some discussion over butchering the horses for meat to send to starving Europeans, but the horses were to be put to better use. The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency purchased thousands of horses across the state, primarily eastern North Dakota, and was shipping them to Europe to replace those that had been killed, starved, or butchered during the war. The UNRRA hoped the animals could be used in an effort to rebuild the European agricultural economy.

The plan seemed a blessing to both Europeans and Americans. According to Leo J. Murphy, the manager of the Jamestown sales yard, most farmers were glad to sell off their horses. “The animals were a detriment because of the feed they consumed as compared to the amount of farm work they did,” he said. “North Dakota farmers can spare these horses because tractors have replaced them.”

The first shipment was in June when 600 horses were shipped from Jamestown. Since then, 4,200 horses were shipped, and another 1,600 horses were gathered in Jamestown and throughout Stutsman County. They awaited trains that would ship them to ports in Savannah, Georgia, Portland, Maine, and Newport News, Virginia. From there the horses would be shipped to Europe. According to the Pioneer, 6,000 horses will have been shipped by the end of the month.

The horses did not just go anywhere. Different types of horses would be sent to countries where they would be most useful. Smaller horses, for example, were sent to Greece, while larger ones were en route for Poland, and if receiving one horse wasn’t enough, some farmers could expect a two-for-one deal. According to the Pioneer, “Everybody concerned denies it, but the evidence of the eye indicates that some of the mares are going to become mothers.” By the time the horses arrived at their destinations, Christmas might indeed be coming early for the European farmers.

By Tessa Sandstrom


“Thousands of ND horses on way to Europe,” Mandan Pioneer. Nov. 14, 1946: 3.