George Graham Vest, “Tribute to a Dog”

Historical Marker # 1436 at the Owensboro courthouse honors George Graham Vest, who began Owensboro’s second newspaper in 1852.

Vest was born on December 6, 1830, in Frankfort, Kentucky. He moved to Owensboro around 1852, where he edited the “Gazette” for about two years. Following his stint as a newspaper editor, Vest moved to Missouri.

During the Civil War, Vest served in the Confederate army under General Sterling Price and served three sessions in the Confederate Congress (February 1862 until January 1865). After the war, he returned to practicing law until 1879, when he was elected to the United States Senate as a Democrat. He served until 1903. It was before his tenure as a U.S. Senator that Vest won a case for Charles Burden with his speech, “Tribute to a Dog.”

The 1870 case of Burden v. Hornsby was one of the strangest in Missouri history. Charles Burden’s favorite hound, Old Drum, was shot by Burden’s neighbor and brother-in-law, Leonidas Hornsby. Hornsby had threatened to shoot the first dog that came on his farm after he had lost more than a hundred sheep. Claiming that his nephew had only shot the dog with a gun loaded with corn in order to scare it, Hornsby refused to admit that it was Old Drum. Instead, Hornsby contended that it was another neighbor’s dog. Burden found his dog sometime later, dead and partly in the waters of Big Creek. Apparently, Old Drum had died from multiple shots of different sizes. Furthermore, evidence pointed to the fact that he had been carried or dragged to the creek. Additional investigation showed sorrel horse hairs on the dog, and Hornsby owned a sorrel mule.

In November 1869, a summons was issued for Hornsby, which began the procedure for four trials, which finally ended in September 1870. It was during this last trial that George Graham Vest delivered his famous eulogy to the dog during his closing remarks. Vest made no reference to the evidence or to Old Drum, but instead gave a tribute to all dogs and their masters. Burden won his case thanks to Vest’s speech, winning $50 for damages as well as court costs.