Bedtime Stories: George G. Vest

An occasional series in which we offer a pleasant “good night” to our readers, courtesy of hunting literature. Sweet dreams!

Tonight’s Bedtime Story has a good story of its own behind it, and we have to thank one of our readers for drawing our attention to it. Here’s the gist of this fascinating tale. In 1870, Kentucky-born George G. Vest was a lawyer in Missouri when he was hired by a farmer named Charles Burden. It was an unusual case, and one that will resonate with hound-lovers everywhere. Burden was suing his neighbor (who also was, as it happened, his brother-in-law) over the death of Burden’s best foxhound, Old Drum, who had been found shot multiple times along the bank of Big Creek. Burden’s suspicion fell on his brother-in-law, Leonidas Hornsby, because Hornsby, a sheep farmer who had been plagued with heavy losses from marauding dogs and wolves, had been heard to say he would shoot the first stray dog he saw on his property. Burden also had heard gunfire, followed by the wailing of a dog, from the vicinity of Hornsby’s farm on the night Old Drum had gone missing.

The case took a number of twists and turns, and after a series of appeals and legal maneuvers, it finally landed in George Vest’s office. On September 23, 1870, in the Old Johnson County Courthouse in Warrensburg, Missouri, Vest presented his closing argument on Burden’s behalf, and, really, on Old Drum’s behalf as well. His remarks quickly became famous and were widely distributed among dog-lovers as “Eulogy of the Dog,” and we bring it to you tonight, in full, in honor of all dogs, particularly those who are abused, neglected, in need, or killed for whatever reason, even, as sometimes happens, for the crime of being the wrong color.

For the record, Burden won that round of the litigation: the jury returned a verdict in his favor and awarded him the maximum $50. The case continued on appeal, but in the end Burden prevailed. Vest went on to be a U.S. Senator, serving from 1879 to 1903.

George Vest’s “Eulogy of the Dog”:

“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 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 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 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, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is the dog.

Vest's "Eulogy of a Dog" is reprinted in full on a statue outside the courthouse in Johnson County, Missouri. That's Old Drum the foxhound in the place of honor, right where he belongs.

“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 when 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 into the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him, to guard him against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes his master in its embrace and his body is laid 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 and his eyes sad but open, in alert watchfulness, faithful and true, even unto death.”

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