“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…”
Those are the words of Colonel Arthur Weimar Thompson at the September 1950 dispersal sale for the Switzer & Field Ranch, as reported by TIME. The article, which called Colonel Thompson the dean of U.S. cattle auctioneers, added that “Thompson has probably done more than anyone else to make Herefords the highest-priced cattle breed. In the last 42 years Auctioneer Thompson has knocked down $250 million worth of cattle at more than 7,000 sales all over the U.S.”
According to the article, Art first made up his mind to be an auctioneer as he trudged behind a horse-drawn cultivator on his father’s Nebraska farm. He told TIME, “As I walked those hot miles under the sun, I thought that someday I would get a job where I could get a drink of water anytime I wanted it.”
Art originally thought he would become a railroad man, and had even been accepted for the railway mail service. But in 1906, on his way to report for work at the post office in Lincoln, Nebraska, he ran into Colonel Tom Smith who told him, “Don’t do it, Art. Don’t make that run. If you do you’ll be stuck there for life. You’ve got better things ahead of you.”Art later said that conversation changed his life. He returned to York County, apprenticed with Colonel Smith, and resumed farming on land rented from his future father-in-law, Nels B. Swanson of Charleston, Nebraska. Toward the end of Art’s apprenticeship, Smith was appointed warden of the state penitentiary, so he began turning over his business to Art. At the same time, leading purebred auctioneer Colonel Tom Callahan decided to retire and let Art finish some of his bigger sales.
A number of Art’s sales set world records, including the Dan Thornton (future governor of Colorado) dispersal and the Robert H. Hazlett Dispersal in Eldorado, Kansas in June 1937. He also cried three, $1 million sales, each world records at the time: the Denver National Western Stock Show, the Baca Grant Dispersal and the Honey Creek Dispersal. By the 1950s, only eight Hereford bulls had ever been sold for more than $50,000. Art had sold them all.
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The Chicago International Livestock Exposition honored Art by hanging his portrait at the Saddle and Sirloin Club, a mark of distinction for educators, breeders, feeders, packers, publishers and others contributing to American livestock production. He was also honored by the University of Nebraska’s Block and Bridle Club and the Nebraska 4-H Clubs.
Art was the son of York County farmers Elwood and Sarah Weimar Thompson. He and his wife, Viola Natalia Swanson Thompson had one son, Elwood Nelson “Jack” Thompson who married Edith Katherine Clarke. They had two children, five grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren.
Art’s brother Edgar was in the cattle business in York County and in Basset, Nebraska. He also was elected county judge, operated the York Livestock Commission Company, and was owner of a meat market in York. Edgar and his wife, Elsie, had two sons, Howard and Glen. Howard was the longtime owner of the Bassett Livestock Auction and later managed the feeder cattle department of the Norfolk Livestock Auction. Howard and Elsie had two children. Glen was a longtime executive with the Woodmen Accident & Life Company in Lincoln.
Art is remembered for his forceful, persuasive rhetorical style. Seasoned breeders would sit in awe as he sold livestock for unusually high prices at an astonishing rate of one to two a minute. As an auctioneer, Art captured his audience’s full attention, and he sold cattle with remarkable speed and knowledge of the industry.