State flower, state tree – does Missouri need a state dog?

A marker in Kentucky remembers a foxhound called Old Drum who was killed by a sheep farmer. The death lead to a famous court case. Now a Missouri legislator is suggesting that, in addition to honoring the mule, the state should adopt Old Drum as its official dog. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

Missouri has the bluebird, channel catfish, paddlefish and mule as state animals but no state dog.

A bill proposes to change that by making “Old Drum” a state historical dog in tribute to a hound murdered more than a century ago.

People said he was a fearless foxhound in his prime with a great nose and a distinct boom of a bark until a sheep farmer ordered him shot dead on Oct. 18, 1869. The dog’s owner sued and some of the best lawyers in the state clashed in a trial that created an old saying: “A man’s best friend is his dog.”

The lawyer who made the closing argument that left jurors sobbing and defense lawyers afraid of being lynched was George Vest. He was a great orator and politician who had served with General Sterling Price, who led confederate forces at the battle of Westport.

Wikipedia tells the story of how a statue of Old Drum came to stand in front of the Johnson County Courthouse in Warrensburg:

Vest had returned to Missouri after the civil war to practice law and farmer Charles Burden hired him to sue over the death of his favorite dog. A sheep farmer, Burden’s brother-in-law, had said he would kill any dog found on his farm, saw Old Drum and ordered a hired hand to shoot him.

The case went to trial at the courthouse in Warrensburg, and Vest said he would “win the case or apologize to every dog in Missouri.”

His closing argument is called “eulogy on the dog” and only a partial transcript has survived.

He spoke of how a man’s human friends, his offspring and others may forsake him, how all his money and reputation may vanish, but “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 in his dog.”

“A man’s dog stands with him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness…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 riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.”

He went on to speak of how the dog lays on its dead owner’s grave, “his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even in death.”

An article in Psychology Today on human-animal bonding gave more detail.

There were few in the courtroom with dry eyes and some said the jury foreman seemed to be sobbing most of all. Defense lawyer Thomas T. Crittenden, who would later be elected to U.S. Congress and become governor of Missouri, is said to have whispered to his co-counsel, “We had better get out of the courtroom with our client, else we might be hanged.”

Burden won, getting $50 (some say $500) for Old Drum’s death and the case survived appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court.

In 1877, Vest moved to Kansas City and was later elected four times to the U.S. Senate. He defended Yellowstone National Park from monopoly concessions by railroads and other businesses and undoubtedly did much else.

But what he is remembered for is fighting for that dead hound, so much so that part of his “Tribute to a Dog” speech is even on a historical marker in Owensboro, Kentucky.

So maybe Rep. Denny Hoskins, a Republican from Warrensburg, has good reason for introducing a bill that ties into canines everywhere. While Republicans routinely attack plaintiff lawyers, it’s wise to support dogs.

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