Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Man's Best Friend"

Not long ago, my mom's friend, Aunt Patty, asked if I could find out how the phrase "man's best friend" got started.  So I did some in-depth research, and I was shocked to learn that this phrase actually was invented right here in Missouri!  Not only that, but it happened in Johnson County, Missouri, which is just one county over to the east from Jackson County, where I live.  Wow!  Who would have thought I was living in such a famous place?

Well, anyway, the phrase "man's best friend" has a story that goes with it, and I am sorry to say that it is a sad story, just like some of the other stories I've told you.  But this fact will not keep me from telling the story to you anyway.

So what happened was that a long time ago, in 1869, there was this man named Charles Burden living in Johnson County, Missouri.  And he had a black-and-tan hound named Old Drum.  Mr. Burden loved this dog, and Old Drum was also valuable to him because he was a good hunting dog.

Meanwhile, on some land next to Mr. Burden's, there was a man named Leonidas Hornsby, and he was a brother-in-law of Mr. Burden's.  Mr. Hornsby had a bunch of sheep on his land, but they kept getting killed by dogs, which made Mr. Hornsby mad.  So he told all his neighbors that he would shoot the next dog that he saw on his property.  And the next dog he saw was Old Drum, so he shot him dead.

Then Mr. Burden got mad because his dog had been killed, so he took Mr. Hornsby to court.  There were three different trials, and a whole bunch of important lawyers got involved, so it was a big deal.  At the third trial, which was in the courthouse at Warrensburg, Missouri, a lawyer named George G. Vest made the closing argument to the jury.  Later on, Mr. Vest would get elected to the Senate in Washington, but that's not part of this story about Old Drum.

Anyway, Mr. Vest made a speech about how much dogs mean to people and how a dog will still be a person's friend, even when all his other friends have gone away and left him.  And the speech came to be called "Eulogy of the Dog."  And here's what the speech said:

"Gentlemen of the Jury, the best friend a man has in the 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 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 the 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 reputations fall 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.” 

Maybe all the jury members had dogs, and that's why they really liked this speech, but anyway, they thought Mr. Burden should get $50 to repay him for the loss of Old Drum.  Which doesn't sound like much money, but back in those days, you could really buy a lot with $50, like for instance, a good hunting dog.

But Mr. Hornsby wasn't happy with the result of this trial, so the case went on to the Missouri Supreme Court.  And that court said that the other court did the right thing in giving Mr. Burden the $50 for his dog.  So that was the end of it all, except that the people of Warrensburg put up a statue of Old Drum on the courthouse square, and you can see it there today.

Of course, we do not really know if Old Drum was guilty of killing sheep or not.  It seems kind of suspicious that he was hanging out in the sheep pasture in the middle of the night.  And if he hadn't been there, he wouldn't have got shot.  Mr. Burden would have been smarter to let Old Drum sleep in bed with him at night, but people didn't much let their dogs do that back in those days.

Anyway, here are the lessons I think we can learn from this story:
   1.  If you are a dog, don't go roaming around in sheep pastures because you might get shot.
   2.  If you have a lawyer who can make a good enough speech, you can probably win your case, whether you                  deserve to or not!


  1. Well...this doesn't happen very often, but I was speechless reading today's blog!! BECAUSE, CMSU is the college I attended, and I DO know the Old Drum statue and people would refer to "Old Drum" when giving people directions. What I didn't know nor ever suspected was the answer to my inquiry would take place in Missouri, and especially Warrensburg, Mo!! Piper, you did a magnificent job researching this story....and my guess is your mom might have helped you a "little." Thank you so much for the time you took finding the answer I have wondered about for a long time!! ALSO...I must point out, I have saved today's blog in my word documents - that's how important today's blog is to me, and how much I appreciate the work you put into "man's best friend." In fact, I think YOU and your siblings, are one of my best friends.
    Love, AP

  2. Dear Aunt Patty,
    I was hoping that you would be glad I found the answer to your question (with a tiny bit of help from Mom!). I did not know you went to school in Warrensburg, and Mom didn't know that either. I guess this is what you call a coincidence. Mom has been to Warrensburg a couple of times, but not really to the downtown part, so she never knew there was a dog statue there. Well, now I have to go write my blog for tomorrow.
    Love, Piper