HIS SIX-FEET-TWO-INCHES and two hundred well-distributed pounds, the perfectly-tailored brown hound’s-tooth-check suit in a classically subtle western cut, the $250 ostrich boots, the Resistol Century hat with its band of pheasant feathers, the custom-made shirts with the tiny GRM monogram, and the gold lion’s-head cufflinks, the large rectangular belt buckle with a silver dollar flanked by Morse’s brand and initials, the gold glasses, the razor-cut black hair with wisps of grey, even the slightly bent nose that offers the only relief in an otherwise flawless picture—these constitute precisely what God, Frederic Remington, and Hollywood, California, would have come up with if they had been asked to collaborate in the creation of the archetypal urban cattleman. Morse does own a ranch and considers the possibility that he may one day give full time to raising Hereford and Charolais cattle. For the present, however, his primary concern is to help others develop their herds of purebred stock at the highest possible cost. George Morse is an extraordinarily talented and successful cattle auctioneer. Some say he is the best in the business.
Unlike commercial cattle, which are sold by the pound at prices that reflect supply and demand and rise or fall only a few cents at a time, purebred cattle sold for breeding purposes bring whatever people will pay for them, which may be anywhere from $250 to over $100,000. One major factor in the price purebreds bring, of course, is the intrinsic quality of the animals themselves, but the importance of a second factor, the cattle auctioneer, can scarcely be overdrawn. A good bull sold by “private treaty” might bring $25,000. An average auctioneer might push his price up to $32,000. A top auctioneer might sell the same bull for, say, $41,500. In turn, the price the bull brings affects the subsequent worth of his progeny, his full- and half-siblings, the other cattle in the seller’s herd, and perhaps even the price structure for the entire breed.
The price brought by one animal in Houston may thus figure importantly in the price of an animal sold several months later in Florida or Colorado or Canada. Because this is the case, breeders choose auctioneers with great care. They do not want to entrust the work of a lifetime or even a year to a beginner, any more than a heart patient requests an intern to perform his surgery. They want a man who knows their cattle and what they should bring, a man who knows the people who will gather to buy them, and what they might be willing to pay. For a great many people who raise Charolais and Herefords, the man they think of first is George Morse.
Morse has been associated with livestock all his life. As a boy in Missouri during the Thirties, he helped his father break mules to sell to cotton farmers. In 1950, after a hitch in the Navy, he graduated from the University of Missouri with a major in agriculture and a strong minor in business, then went to work for the American Hereford Association. For the next eight years, Morse attended auctions and breeding-association meetings and visited with cattlemen in 40 states. When he decided to enter the auction business in 1958, he had the double advantage of a thorough knowledge of the cattle industry and a vast network of people who knew and trusted him.
Morse explains the lure auctioning held for him: “I have always loved the inward feeling present in anything connected to show business, or in things like the flight of planes in formation, or flag-waving in ceremonies. In the service, I loved drill-team work. I liked the effect these things have on people. The spirit of it, I guess you might say. I get goose bumps just talking about it right now. Really. Well, at the first purebred cattle auction I ever attended, right after I got out of college, I got that same feeling. I liked the challenge and the speed, and I wondered to myself if I could ever learn to do that. A few years later at a sale in Iowa, Art Thompson, the auctioneer, called me aside and asked me if I had ever thought about this business. I guess that is what I wanted to hear. Driving home that night in an ice storm, I tried my luck with the chant. I decided that if he could learn it, so could I.
“A lot of what an auctioneer says during the chant, of course, is just filler. All you really have to listen for is the price. The rest is mainly for show, to create excitement. The ideal auction chant is clear, rhythmic, and continuous. When it’s done right, it has the same effect on people as pretty music. It helps them feel that this moment is especially for them. For five years I practiced—taking a bath, driving, wherever most folk sing, I practiced the chant. I was driving about 60,000 miles a year for the Hereford Association at the time, and I sold every sign and fencepost I passed. I got constructive criticism from other auctioneers. I never will forget when it first really came to me. I was driving down in Louisiana one night and I got to where it just kind of rolled along. It felt so good I was sorry to get to where I was going.”
Not long after his “call” came in Louisiana, Morse decided to turn professional. A two-week stint in auction school, run by speech teachers and veteran auctioneers, taught him to breathe from his diaphragm and to speak for five or six hours at a crack without damaging his throat and vocal cords. With the encouragement of his wife Dixie—”That’s her real name. She’s been a great sidekick”—Morse and a friend, Max Cox, began to manage sales for breeders, employing seasoned auctioneers as well as Morse himself. George quickly proved his mettle. “The first sale I worked was for a sick man who was