by | May 15, 2023

Follow in the pawprints of man’s best friend

If not for a celebrated trial and the heartfelt closing argument from a future U.S. senator, no one would remember a hound named Drum. Drum’s tragic death sparked his owner’s quest for satisfaction. His lawsuit led to four trials, resulting in a tear-jerking “eulogy to the dog” delivered by George Vest that solidified the reputation of the dog as man’s best friend — and Warrensburg as his home.

The events leading up to the legend of Old Drum began in 1869 when he was shot along Big Creek south of Kingsville. Life was returning to normal four years after the Civil War ended. For farmer Leonidis Hornsby, that meant stopping wolves and stray dogs from killing his sheep. He vowed to kill the next stray that appeared on his land.

On the night of Oct. 28, 1869, Hornsby’s neighbor and brother-in-law Charles Burden released his hounds, including Old Drum, and settled in for a night listening to them chase coons in the woods. Suddenly a shot rang out and the joyful bays turned to yelps of pain. He sounded his hunting horn and all of the dogs responded — except for Drum, the pride and joy of his pack.

Fearing the worst, and remembering his neighbor’s promise to shoot stray dogs, Burden confronted him. He learned Hornsby had asked his nephew to load his shotgun with corn to scare off dogs instead of killing them. A dog had been shot, he admitted, but doubted it was Drum.

Burden responded by saying he would go look, and “It may not be my dog. If it ain’t, it’s all right. If it is, it’s all wrong and I’ll have satisfaction.” He found his dog dead, with his head lying in the waters of Big Creek. To Burden, it was obvious who killed his dog. He filed suit, asking for $100 in damages.

And so began the legal maneuvering that led to suits, judgements, appeals and finally satisfaction for Burden after three years of wrangling — and Vest’s famous speech. Drum’s owner was awarded $50 and court costs after the judgement was affirmed by the Missouri Supreme Court.

Warrensburg, where the famous trial was held, quickly claimed the title of Home of Man’s Best Friend and refused to let Old Drum be forgotten. In 1958, Drum was immortalized in downtown Warrensburg where his likeness was set in bronze and put on display at the current Johnson County Courthouse.

Countless fans of Old Drum visit the courthouse memorial today. They pause for a selfie in front of the life-size statue and likely shed a tear after reading Vest’s eulogy on the concrete base.

Less known is the rest of the Old Drum story that plays out on a trail put together by the Johnson County Historical Society. Beginning at the courthouse monument, the trail leads lovers of canine history to all of the Old Drum sites, including the courthouse where the celebrated trial took place, the cemetery where many of the principals are buried and the site where he breathed his last.

This month the Old Drum Trail culminates with a festival named for Missouri’s State Historical Dog. During Old Drum Day set for June 10, Warrensburg welcomes visitors from near and far to a fun-filled event that celebrates furry friends. The festival is centered around the Johnson County Historical Society’s museum complex, which includes the actual courthouse where the famous trial took place along with other historical structures. It features dog-themed events, food, live music and more.

Whether you come for the Old Drum Day festival or plan your own search for Old Drum, there’s plenty of local history waiting for you thanks to the active historical society that has been around since 1920. Follow these directions for the locations of the Old Drum sites in Warrensburg and the surrounding area.

 The Johnson County Historical Society Museum is open from 1 to 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. For more information visit, or call 660-747-6480. You can read more of the Old Drum story from the July 2020 issue of Rural Missouri at

Old Drum statue

Start the tour at the corner of Hout and Holden streets in downtown Warrensburg, site of the current Johnson County Courthouse. The 1958 statue honoring Old Drum is on the southeast corner of the courthouse square.  A painting of Old Drum hangs on the building across Hout Street from the statue. The Romanesque-revival courthouse, built between 1896 and 1898, also is worthy of a visit. It features a display of historical items from the county history and information about its many famous citizens, which include temperance movement leader Carrie Nation and Medal of Honor recipient John Lewis Barkley. Other nearby Old Drum-related sites include the Old Drum Coffee House & Eatery at 211 N. Holden St., a good place to refresh before continuing on the trail.

Old Courthouse

Continue north to the four-way stop at Holden and Gay streets. Turn left, go to the top of the hill, and turn left on Main Street. Here you will find the 1842-1898 Old Johnson County Courthouse which has been restored to its appearance when the trial took place in 1870. Tours are available at the nearby Smiser Heritage Library and Museum, 304 N. Main St., or by calling 660-747-6480. The Old Courthouse is part of the Johnson County Historical Society’s museum complex. This Federal-style building was the site of the famous Old Drum trial in 1870 and a political gunfight in 1861. The area was the original location of Warrensburg’s business district until the coming of the railroad prompted its move to the current location.  Today it hosts Concerts in the Courthouse, an intimate musical series held by candlelight in the spring and fall. When the new courthouse was built this one became a private residence until it was purchased and restored by the historical society.

Hornsby Cemetery

Turn around and go north on Main Street to Business Highway 50. Turn left and go to Highway 50. Turn left on Highway 50 and go west 5 miles to Missouri Highway 58. Turn left (south) on Highway 58. It will turn back to the west and go through Holden to Kingsville, 14 miles total. Take Highway T south from Kingsville about 3 miles to Highway TT.  Turn right and continue about 3 miles to the Hornsby Cemetery on the right. Here Leonidis Hornsby and other principals in the case, including Drum’s owner Charles Burden, are buried. Their graves are located in the far corner of the cemetery.

Old Drum Road

Continue west on TT to the end of the pavement. Turn left on Hadsdell Road (SW 2001) for 7/10 mile to 233 St.  You will cross the Rock Island Spur of the Katy Trail State Park here, making this a destination for cyclists riding the trail. Go right on 233 to Old Drum Road, another selfie stop. 

Old Drum Memorial

Turn left on Old Drum Road and go 3/4 mile to the concrete monument just across the Big Creek bridge, the site where Drum met his fate. This memorial to the celebrated hound was erected in 1947 by Fred Ford of Blue Springs. He intended for it to serve as a memorial for all dogs that people have loved and lost. Ford received donations of money and rocks for the original monument from all over the world, including the Great Wall of China, the White Cliffs of Dover, Jamaica and most states of the U.S. The original rock base was replaced with concrete after vandals made off with many of the stones. The gray granite plaque is illustrated with a dog treeing a coon, a fox and a deer being chased. It is inscribed with “Killed, Old Drum, 1869.”

Warrensburg and Old Drum Day

Return the way you came or continue south on Old Drum Road to Missouri Highway 2 in Cass County. If visiting the Old Drum sites has you wanting a dog of your own, visit the Old Drum Animal Shelter at 35 SW 101st Road in Warrensburg. Here you can adopt, foster or volunteer to help the many rescue pets at the shelter. While in Warrensburg you can find many fine dining destinations and other things to do. More information can be found at The Old Drum Day Festival is June 10 this year. You can learn more about the festival on Facebook by searching for Old Drum Day.

George Vest’s Eulogy to the Dog

Editor’s note: No one recorded the closing remarks made by George Vest, a Sedalia attorney representing plaintiff Charles Burden during the fourth Old Drum trial. Vest stayed clear of the facts and instead waxed eloquently of dogs in the Bible, classic literature and poetry. He spoke for an hour, then moved in close to the jury and quietly delivered a eulogy to the dog that caused many then and now to shed tears. His remarks are considered by many to be the basis for the concept of the dog as man’s best friend. The remarks printed here come from the notes of  Thomas Crittendon, part of the legal team that defended Leonidis Hornsby. 

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 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 good name — may become traitors in 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 absolute, unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world — 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 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 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.

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