George Graham Vest, U. S. senator from Missouri, was born in Frankfort, Kentucky on December 6, 1830. He moved to Missouri after completing law school, and started a small practice in the city of Georgetown. Vest married Sallie Sneed of Danville, Kentucky in 1854, and became the father of three children. Though his law career was mostly undistinguished, he nonetheless managed to win a seat in the Missouri House of Representatives in 1860.
As tensions mounted between the North and the South, Vest made clear his sympathies. He authored the Vest Resolutions, a series of statements denouncing the movement to change the South’s way of life. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Vest returned to the South, where he served in the Confederate Congress.
After his war service, Vest returned to Missouri and resumed his law practice. In 1870, he was called in on a case that would ultimately raise him from obscurity. A man named Charles Burden had a dog, Old Drum, and someone had shot the dog dead. Old Drum was his favorite, and Burden was determined to find the killer and see that justice was done. Burden discovered that a nephew of his neighbor Leonidas Hornsby had shot the dog, and promptly lodged a lawsuit against Hornsby. Three times the case went to court, and on the third and final time, at the Court of Common Pleas in Warrensburg, Missouri, Vest (by that time a leading orator) was brought in to argue the case for Burden.
Vest listened to the testimony, but asked no questions of any witnesses. Instead, he delivered a summation in the form of a eulogy to Old Drum. On September 23, 1870, he spoke these words that have since become well known to animal lovers everywhere:
“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.”
Vest, and Burden, won the case. Even so, Hornsby was not finished, and appealed the case to the Missouri Supreme Court. Again Vest was retained, and again he won the case. Burden was awarded fifty dollars in damages for the death of Old Drum.
Today, a monument to Old Drum and the words of Vest’s eulogy stands in Warrensburg. Vest returned to his law practice and died in Sweet Springs, Missouri, on August 9, 1904. He is buried in the Bellefontaine cemetery of St. Louis.
The World Book Encyclopedia, edition of 1953.
"George Graham Vest Eulogy to Man's Best Friend, The Dog", The Sterling Price Camp website. <http://www.sterlingprice145.org/olddrum.htm> (December 2003)