Man’s Best Friend

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Many Americans and others around the world have formed close attachments to their canine friends.

Even Dr. Thomas Walker and his party brought along their faithful hounds when he explored and documented the discovery of Cumberland Gap in 1750, before venturing deeper into the vast wilderness beyond and building the first log cabin in what would become the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

The following is a true story and could have occurred in any of the states as easily as in Missouri, a state that adjoins Kentucky and Tennessee on their western border.

It was 1869 and something had been killing Leonidas Hornsby’s sheep. The irate rancher thought it was Old Drum, a hound dog belonging to his neighbor and brother-in-law Charles Burden.

He ordered his farmhand, Samuel “Dick” Ferguson, to kill Drum and his worker complied. Charles Burden, the owner of the dead hound that had been a constant companion for many years, sued Hornsby for the wrongful death.

The case eventually went to the Missouri Supreme Court where attorney George Graham Vest gave his famous tribute to our canine friends.

In summation the lawyer, who would later become a senator, addressed the jury.

“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 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 and do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stones of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads.

“The one absolutely unselfish friend a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, 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 poverty, in health and 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 that he 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 him, his dog 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, a faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him, to guard him against danger and 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 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 and alert, faithful and true, even in death.”

The jury deliberated a very short time before returning a judgment in favor of Drum’s owner.

A statue commemorating the case stands in front of the old Johnson County, Missouri, courthouse in Warrensburg.

Drum was buried in Cass County, Missouri. Dick Ferguson moved to Anadarko, Oklahoma, where he himelf died of gunshot wounds.

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