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Henry Burke, U.S. Agriculture Department
Henry Burke, U.S. Agriculture Department
TitleHenry Burke, U.S. Agriculture Department
DescriptionPostcard of Henry Burke of the U.S. Agriculture Department
Historical ArticleIn the days before such hurricanes as Gilbert had their progress reported by weather bureau, radio, television and newspapers, disasters occurred, many now long forgotten and many more unreported.

The story of one such storm and the disapperance of a large sailing vessel in the summer of 1915 is partly told in a box of mementoes and photos of the late Sam Ray, who by merest chance or fate, arrived safely in the port of New Orleans, missing death by only a few days.

The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture on May 25, 1915, wrote a letter of authorization directing Dr. Henry Burke and Sam H. Ray of the Animal Husbandry Division to visit the Republic of Guatamala in Central America for the purpose of investigating and submitting a detailed report of the beef cattle industry there.

Ray's special passport (found among his mementoes) was issued May 28, 1915, and bore the flowery signature of William Jennings Bryan.

Burke and Ray left New Orleans on a United Fruit steamer on June 3, 1915. Ray's later report stated: The voyage down was very pleasant. Weather conditions during the trip were very different than that of the return passage. My return trip was made several weeks in advance of that of Dr. Burke. . . . The weather of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea is an uncertainty and especially so during the months of July and August. Terrible hurricanes spring up without warning and unfortunate is the vessel that has to beat a course through one of these storms. . .

The steamship Marowijne, a United Fruit Co. boat, carrying Dr. Burke as one if its passengers, left Puerto Barrios (Guatemala) on July 13, 1915. When only a few hours out of port, one of these West Indian hurricanes crossed its path. . . .Burke's ship never reached New Orleans and it is supposed she was lost with all the passengers and crew. Not a trace of wreckage nor of Dr. Burke was ever found.

Items in Sam Ray's box of mementoes tell why the men were in Guatemala and of some of their accomplishments. Reports were made on grass conditions, cattle, sheep and hogs, crops, climate, people. Of special interest was work conducted by the men and ranchers to see if it were possible to ship cattle to the U.S. without bringing back the dreaded Texas tick and screw fly. The tropical climate seemed to encourage infestation.

After several weeks of dipping cattle the government team had finished the project. Cattle were sent by rail to the port where they underwent a final dipping before being shipped to New Orleans.

Ray elected to return to the states on the cattle boat. The decision saved his life. Dr. Burke stayed behind to await official authorization to return. It arrived several weeks later. On July 13, 1915, Dr. Burke took passage on the Marowijne.

Sam Ray returned to Washington to file his report on the Guatemala project. During World War I he headed the Agriculture Department's Bureau of Markets at the Kansas City stockyards and supervised the yards during those critical years when meat for the U.S. Army and Navy became a priority.

Kansas City Times
September 23, 1988

AuthorRay, Mrs. Sam (Mildred)
Item TypePostcard
CollectionMrs. Sam Ray Postcard Collection (SC58)
See finding aid: http://localhistory.kclibrary.org/u?/Local,36981
Local SubjectAgriculture
Digital FormatJPEG
RepositoryMissouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri
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