Ever wonder where the old saying, "A man's best friend is his dog," came from? Well, if you guessed Warrensburg, Missouri, you were right! Senator George Graham Vest won a court battle and the hearts of dog lovers everywhere when he paid his famous tribute to the dog during the 1870 Burden vs. Hornsby court case in Warrensburg. The speech included the line, "The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is his dog." The "eulogy to the dog" won the case for Charles Burden whose favorite hound, Old Drum, was shot by a neighbor & brother-in-law, Leonidas Hornsby, who had sworn to shoot the first sheep-killing dog that came onto his land. Although Hornsby had hunted with Drum and acknowledged him to be one of the best hunting dogs he had ever seen, he also suspected that Drum was the dog that had been killing his sheep. Hornsby, carried out his threat when one night a dog was found prowling in his yard. That dog was Old Drum. Burden immediately sued Hornsby for damages, and the trial quickly became one of the strangest in the history of this area of the country. Each man was determined to win the case. After several trials at magistrate court and district court, punctuated by appeals by the loser in each trial, the case finally reached the Supreme Court of Missouri. The award of $50 in damages to Burden for the loss of his favorite hunting dog was upheld. The many trials involved prominent attorneys on both sides. David Nation, whose wife Carrie made a name for herself in the Temperance Movement, appeared for Burden in one of the early encounters. The last jury trial, held September 23, 1870, in what is now the Johnson County Historical Society museum, featured the most prominent lawyers. Hornsby, the defendant, was represented by the firm of Crittenden & Cockrell. Tom Crittenden had been Lt. Col. of the 7th Cavalry, Missouri State Militia (Federal), in the 'late unpleasantness'. He was to go on to the Governership of Missouri in 1880; Tom Crittenden issued the reward that motivated the Ford brothers to kill Jesse James. His partner was Francis Marion Cockrell, recently a Brigadier General commanding the 1st Missouri Brigade (CSA), one of the hardest-fighting units in the Confederate Army of Tennessee (see Cedarcroft B&B's Civil War bibliography for more on his history). Cockrell later spent 5 terms in the U.S. Senate. Appearing for Burden was the Sedalia-based firm of Phillips & Vest. John Phillips had been a Union Colonel & Tom Crittenden's immediate superior; he was later a congressman and a federal judge. George Graham Vest had been a strong secessionist, having written Missouri's Articles of Secession while in the state legislature in 1861. His war service was in Richmond representing Missouri in the Confederate House of Representatives and Senate. He later served in the U.S. Senate for 4 terms. Perhaps because he spent the war talking rather than fighting, George Vest was known as one of the finest extemporaneous speakers in an age when the spoken word was the most important means of communication for most people. Vest's closing argument in the Old Drum case, known as his "eulogy to the dog," won the case and became a classic speech, recognized by William Safire as one of the best of the millenium. Through the direction of the Warrensburg Chamber of Commerce and coordinated efforts by many dog lovers across the country, Old Drum was immortalized in a statue on the Johnson County Courthouse lawn in Warrensburg on September 23, 1958. Previously, in 1947, Fred Ford of Blue Springs placed a monument to Old Drum at a crossing of Big Creek where Old Drum's body was found. If you're interested in exploring the Old Drum sites, check our our Old Drum Tour. While no record was kept of the last half of Vest's tribute to a dog, the first portion has fortunately been preserved. It was this speech that originated the saying, "A man's best friend is his dog."


George Graham Vest speaking: "Gentlemen of the jury, the best friend a man has in this world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter whom he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us -- those whom we trust with our happiness and good name -- may become traitors in their faith. The money that a man has he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it most. A man's reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolute, unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world -- the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous -- is his dog. "Gentlemen of the jury, a man's dog stands by him in prosperity and poverty, in health and sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow, and the snow drives fiercely, if only he can be near his master's side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer; he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens. "If fortune drives the master forth an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him to guard against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes the master in its embrace, and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even to death." ________________________________________ Resource © 1996 - 2002 Cedarcroft Farm Bed & Breakfast - Warrensburg, MO








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A man in Grand Rapids, Michigan took out a $7000 full page ad in the paper to present the following essay to the people of our community. It really touched my heart and I hope it will yours too. HOW COULD YOU? By Jim Willis 2001 When I was a puppy, I entertained you with my antics and made you laugh. You called me your child, and despite a number of chewed shoes and a couple of murdered throw pillows, I became your best friend. Whenever I was "bad," you'd shake your finger at me and ask "How could you?" -- but then you'd relent, and roll me over for a bellyrub. My housebreaking took a little longer than expected, because you were terribly busy, but we worked on that together. I remember those nights of nuzzling you in bed and listening to your confidences and secret dreams, and I believed that life could not be any more perfect. We went for long walks and runs in the park, car rides, stops for ice cream (I only got the cone because "ice cream is bad for dogs," you said), and I took long naps in the sun waiting for you to come home at the end of the day. Gradually, you began spending more time at work and on your career, and more time searching for a human mate. I waited for you patiently, comforted you through heartbreaks and disappointments, never chided you about bad decisions, and romped with glee at your homecomings, and when you fell in love. She, now your wife, is not a "dog person" -- still welcomed her into our home, tried to show her affection, and obeyed her. I was happy because you were happy. Then the human babies came along and I shared your excitement. I was fascinated by their pinkness, how they smelled, and I wanted to mother them, too. Only she and you worried that I might hurt them, and I spent most of my time banished to another room, or to a dog crate. Oh, how I wanted to love them, but I became a "prisoner of love." As they began to grow, I became their friend. They clung to my fur and pulled themselves up on wobbly legs, poked fingers in my eyes, investigated my ears, and gave me kisses on my nose. I loved everything about them and their touch because your touch was now so infrequent -- and I would have defended them with my life if need be. I would sneak into their beds and listen to their worries and secret dreams, and together we waited for the sound of your car in the driveway. There had been a time, when others asked you if you had a dog, that you produced a photo of me from your wallet and told them stories about me. These past few years, you just answered "yes" and changed the subject. I had gone from being "your dog" to "just a dog," and you resented every expenditure on my behalf. Now, you have a new career opportunity in another city, and you and they will be moving to an apartment that does not allow pets. You've made the right decision for your "family," but there was a time when I was your only family. I was excited about the car ride until we arrived at the animal shelter. It smelled of dogs and cats, of fear, of hopelessness. You filled out the paperwork and said "I know you will find a good home for her." They shrugged and gave you a pained look. They understand the realities facing a middle-aged dog, even one with "papers." You had to pry your son's fingers loose from my collar as he screamed "No, Daddy! Please don't let them take my dog!" And I worried for him, and what lessons you had just taught him about friendship and loyalty, about love and responsibility, and about respect for all life. You gave me a good-bye pat on the head, avoided my eyes, and politely refused to take my collar and leash with you. You had a deadline to meet and now I have one, too. After you left, the two nice ladies said you probably knew about your upcoming move months ago and made no attempt to find me another good home. They shook their heads and asked, "How could you?" They are as attentive to us here in the shelter as their busy schedules allow. They feed us, of course, but I lost my appetite days ago. At first, whenever anyone passed my pen, I rushed to the front, hoping it was you that you had changed your mind --that this was all a bad dream ... or I hoped it would at least be someone who cared, anyone who might save me. When I realized I could not compete with the frolicking for attention of happy puppies, oblivious to their own fate, I retreated to a far corner and waited. I heard her footsteps as she came for me at the end of the day, and I padded along the aisle after her to a separate room. A blissfully quiet room. She placed me on the table and rubbed my ears, and told me not to worry. My heart pounded in anticipation of what was to come, but there was also a sense of relief. The prisoner of love had run out of days. As is my nature, I was more concerned about her. The burden which she bears weighs heavily on her, and I know that, the same way I knew your every mood. She gently placed a tourniquet around my foreleg as a tear ran down her cheek. I licked her hand in the same way I used to comfort you so many years ago. She expertly slid the hypodermic needle into my vein. As I felt the sting and the cool liquid coursing through my body, I lay down sleepily, looked into her kind eyes and murmured "How could you?" Perhaps because she understood my dogspeak, she said "I'm so sorry." She hugged me, and hurriedly explained it was her job to make sure I went to a better place, where I wouldn't be ignored or abused or abandoned, or have to fend for myself -- a place of love and light so very different from this earthly place. And with my last bit of energy, I tried to convey to her with a thump of my tail that my "How could you?" was not directed at her. It was you, My Beloved Master, I was thinking of. I will think of you and wait for you forever. May everyone in your life continue to show you so much loyalty.

The End


A note from the author:

If "How Could You?" brought tears to your eyes as you read it, as it did to mine as I wrote it, it is because it is the composite story of the millions of formerly owned pets who die each year in American and Canadian animal shelters. Anyone is welcome to distribute the essay for a noncommercial purpose, as long as it is properly attributed with the copyright notice. Please use it to help educate, on your websites, in newsletters, on animal shelter and vet office bulletin boards. Tell the public that the decision to add a pet to the family is an important one for life, that animals deserve our love and sensible care, that finding another appropriate home for your animal is your responsibility and any local humane society or animal welfare league can offer you good advice, and that all life is precious.






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