Into a huge tent near Gunnison, Colo, last week strode brisk, blue-eyed "Colonel" Arthur Weimer Thompson, dean of U.S. cattle auctioneers. In his clarion voice he addressed his audience of 1,500: "You men are the backbone of America. Burn all the cities down—you farmers and ranchers will live. Tear up the farms and ranches—that's the end for everybody."

Having got wisdom off his chest, Thompson got down to business. He was there to sell 306 purebred Hereford cattle from the nearby Switzer & Field ranch. Quickly he sold nine animals for a total of $39,925, topped the whole lot with...

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