All across America, courthouse lawns are decorated with various statues. There are statues of pioneers, politicians, war heroes and dogs. Dogs? Well, there is at least one statue of a dog, and it stands in front of the Johnson County Courthouse in Warrensburg, Missouri. Who was that dog? Sadly, he wasn’t a celebrity in his own lifetime, but in death, he was the subject of one of the most significant courtroom battles of the Old West. I’m talking about a very special dog named Old Drum, and his story will bring a lump to the throat of anyone who ever loved a dog.
Nothin’ But a Hound Dog
Old Drum was a black and tan Foxhound that belonged to a man named Charles Burden, a Missouri farmer. For several years, Old Drum had been Burden’s companion. The dog was known by most of the people in the area as an exceptionally good dog. But, even good dogs can wander and one night Old Drum wandered onto the neighboring property of Leonidas Hornsby. Drat it all!
Hornsby was a sheep farmer who had been struggling to keep dogs and wolves away from his sheep, having lost more than 100 sheep. It was 1869 and agriculture was just beginning to make a comeback following the Civil War, so possessions were closely guarded. Hornsby had threatened to kill any dog that set foot on his property.
One evening Old Drum did not return home. That was the same evening that, according to Hornsby, he had instructed his nephew to shoot a stray dog with corncobs. Yet, the following morning, a bullet ridden Old Drum was found dead and the events that followed became a courtroom drama that lasted for years.
It should be noted that Hornsby and Burden happened to be brothers-in-law. However, I’m guessing that their cozy family Christmas dinners ended with the shot heard by dog lovers around the world! Talk about awkward!
Went to See Some Lawyers About a Dog
Burden was burdened by the death of his best friend and wanted justice to be served. In order for that to happen, he felt he needed his day in court. So, Burden went to see some lawyers about a dog and Hornsby was issued a summons to appear in court on November 25, 1869.
The original jury was hung. The second trial resulted in a guilty verdict and Burden being awarded a whopping $25, plus court costs. Hornsby appealed. New lawyers were hired. And, on April 1, 1870, Hornsby was found not guilty and awarded court costs. One might think that it was all over, but one would be wrong!
Every Dog Has Its Day
Burden was determined that Old Drum would have his day! Burden filed a motion for a new trial, alleging the discovery of new evidence. The motion was granted and George Graham Vest was added to Burden’s legal team. Vest was a lawyer who had served as a Confederate Congressman during the Civil War and who would later become a U.S. Senator. Oddly, the thing that brought Vest the most notoriety was the case of Burden v. Hornsby.
On September 21, 1870, in Warrensburg, Missouri, the case of Old Drum went to trial for the fourth time! The maximum amount of damages allowed by the law was $50, but George Vest argued that trial with the intensity of Atticus Finch in the Tom Robinson case. Vest is quoted as saying that he would “win the case or apologize to every dog is Missouri.”
The “Man’s Best Friend” Defense
On the final day of trial, George Vest didn’t really present closing arguments, for very few people could argue with what he said. Instead, he offered up what has become known as the “Eulogy of the Dog” speech. He stood in front of the jury and he spoke the words that cut directly to the heart of dog lovers everywhere:
“Gentlemen of the jury: The best friend a man has in this world may turn against him and become his enemy. The son or daughter that 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 our good name, may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it the 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 absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and 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 in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may 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 encounters 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.”
There was no mention of evidence. For that matter, there was no mention of Old Drum! There didn’t need to be. Hornsby was found guilty and Burden was awarded $50 plus court costs. Some versions of the story say that the jury was so moved that they awarded $500. Hornsby appealed all the way to the Missouri Supreme Court, but the verdict held.
That, my friends, is why there is a bronze statue of a hound dog in front of the courthouse in Warrensburg, Missouri. It’s a reminder that Burden may have won the trial, but the real winners are every person who has ever loved a dog. Gulp. Excuse me; I seem to have a big ol’ lump in my throat.
Happy Trails, y’all!