Eulogy of The Dog: The Story of ‘Old Drum’

Jan 19, 2024 0 comments

George Graham Vest spent twenty-four years in the United States Senate, serving from 1879 to 1903. However, his most notable legacy stems from a speech he gave during a seemingly inconspicuous court case when he was practicing law in rural Missouri. The case that would eternally link his name involved the shooting of "Old Drum," the hunting dog owned by a local farmer named Charles Burden.

State historical marker in Owensboro, Kentucky. Photo credit: Carldaniel/Wikimedia Commons

On the evening of October 28, 1869, Charles Burden heard the sound of a gun going off from the direction of his neighbor’s farm located only a mile south. The farm was owned by his brother-in-law, Leonidas Hornsby, who raised sheep there. Hornsby was having a hard time maintaining his flock of sheep because of the constant threat of prowling dogs and wolves. Having already lost over a hundred sheep, Hornsby vowed to kill the first stray dog trespassing on his land.

Concerned by the gunfire on Hornsby's farm, Burden recalled the vow and, fearing the worst, called his dogs. However, his favorite hunting companion, Old Drum, failed to respond. The following morning, with Old Drum still absent, Charles Burden initiated a search for his missing dog. He first approached his neighbor Hurley to inquire about Old Drum's whereabouts and then proceeded to Hornsby's farm to question him directly. When Hornsby claimed ignorance of Old Drum's location, Burden pressed further, asking about the dog shot the previous night. Hornsby denied shooting any dog himself but mentioned that his nephew Dick had fired at a dog, presuming it belonged to another neighbor.

Unconvinced Burden left his brother-in-law’s property to continue the search. Later that morning, Burden found his beloved dog lying dead in the waters of a creek near his farm. His body was riddled with multiple bullet holes. It was apparent to Charles Burden that Old Drum had been carried or dragged to his final resting place along the banks of the river. There was also evidence of sorrel horse hairs on his body. Because Hornsby owned a sorrel mule, Burden was convinced that it was Hornsby who had shot his dog the previous night.

Burden filed a lawsuit for damages with the Madison township justice of the peace. Burden originally asked for a $100 in damages, but because this amount was beyond the jurisdiction of the local official, the amount was amended to the legal limit of $50.

The initial trial resulted in a hung jury regarding Hornsby's guilt, but in a subsequent trial, Charles Burden was awarded $25 along with court costs for the loss of Old Drum. Hornsby appealed the case to the Johnson County Court of Common Pleas in Warrensburg. His appeal was based not on his guilt in shooting Old Drum but on the contention that Burden should not have been allowed to amend his original request from $100 to $50.

On March 30, 1870, the case returned to trial with new evidence presented by Hornsby and his nephew, asserting that they had later removed lead bullets from the dog's body. This raised doubts about whether Hornsby was responsible for Old Drum's death. Two days later, the jury ruled in favor of Leonidas Hornsby, awarding only court costs.

Unsatisfied with this outcome, Charles Burden filed a motion for a new trial. He enlisted a new legal team, comprised of John F. Phillips and George G. Vest, to face Hornsby's formidable lawyers, Thomas Crittenden and Francis Cockrell.

George G. Vest

During the fourth trial that commenced on September 21, 1870, Hornsby admitted to having his nephew shoot at a dog but vehemently denied that the dog in question was Old Drum. Instead, the defense attempted to demonstrate that Old Drum had been sighted and shot at Haymaker's Mill.

On September 23, 1870, Vest presented the closing remarks on behalf of Burden and Old Drum. However, he made no reference to the evidence or to Old Drum, but delivered an emotional tribute to all dogs and their masters. This famous closing statement, which would be written down and titled “Eulogy of the Dog”, eventually swayed the jury in favor of Charles Burden. Vest's Eulogy of the Dog continues to remain one of the most enduring passages of purple prose in American courtroom history.

Eulogy of the Dog

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 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.

The speech became so famous that in 1958 the town of Warrensburg, Missouri, where the speech took place, erected a bronze statue to honor Old Drum and George G. Vest. There is also a bronze bust of Old Drum displayed in the Supreme Court of Missouri.

Statue of Old Drum in front of Johnson County courthouse in Warrensburg. Photo credit: Jimmy Emerson/Flickr

Old Drum Memorial, Warrensburg, MO

# The Story of Burden v. Hornsby, Missouri Digital Heritage
# Old Drum, Missouri’s official historic dog, The Missouri Bar


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