The Missourian who said ‘dog is man’s best friend’

Ever heard the saying “dog is man’s best friend”? Did you know it was a Missourian who coined it?

Did you know the same man also once played a role in a significant historical event in Neosho?

George Graham Vest (1830-1903) was a lawyer and politician who lived in various places in Missouri for most of his adult life. The famous “man’s best friend” phrase is from Vest’s closing arguments in an 1870 court case in Johnson County, Mo., in which his client was suing his brother-in-law for shooting his hound dog, “Old Drum.”

George Vest

Instead of focusing on the actual facts of the case, Vest gave a passionate eulogy for Old Drum before the jury in which he stated, in part, “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, is his dog.”

He won the case, and also the later appeal before the Missouri Supreme Court. His client was awarded $50.

Vest’s words were published in the newspapers and struck a chord with the masses. A statue of Old Drum, with Vest’s closing argument inScribed on the base, stands in front of the Johnson County Courthouse in Warrensburg today.

A decade before stating the words that would become famous worldwide, Vest was a Missouri State Representative from Cooper County. In October 1861, when the state legislature was meeting in Neosho, following a series of battles between state and federal forces, it was Vest who proposed the Ordinance of Secession of Missouri from the Union in the Missouri House of Representatives, which passed.

There is still a question if a quorum was present or not, though more recently discovered evidence suggests there may have been.

Wes Franklin

Vest later served as a Missouri Congressman in the Confederate States House of Representatives and briefly in the Confederate States Senate before the conclusion of the war resulted in the destruction of both of those bodies.

At the time of his death, Vest was the last living Confederate States Senator.

After the war, Vest returned to Missouri, resumed his law practice (in which time he gave the famous “man’s best friend” speech), and was later elected to both the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives.

Vest died on August 9, 1904, and is buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis.

Besides the “man’s best friend” saying, he is also loosely attributed to the “history is written by the victors” quote.

Although other people have, no doubt, basically stated the same, in a 1891 speech Vest said: “In all revolutions the vanquished are the ones who are guilty of treason, even by the historians, for history is written by the victors and framed according to the prejudices and bias existing on their side.”

By Wes Franklin

(Wes Franklin can be reached at (417) 658-8443.)

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