Pine nuts: Old drum

McAvoy Layne / Columnist

Some years ago I was invited to participate in a Chautauqua out in Warrensburg, Missouri, alongside Harry Truman and George Washington Carver. We had a grand time of it, and enjoyed each other’s company ever more when we were off duty. In our Warrensburg wanderings I happened to notice a statue of a dog, a hound dog named, “Old Drum.” I thought it quaint to have a statue of a hunting dog in the town square, and attributed it to the soft hearts of the good citizens of Warrensburg. They even sent me home with a pin of Old Drum, dated 1870.

But it was not until recently, when I became curious about Old Drum, that I discovered it was more than sentimentalism that prompted the casting of that statue. Old Drum was murdered, and the suit for damages in the loss of a good hunting dog went all the way up to the Missouri Supreme Court back in 1870.

Old Drum

Was a good hunting dog worth $50 or not? That was seemingly what the trial was all about, until a wily old legal expert, George Vest, stood up to make a case for the worth of a dog as a pet, and effectively delivered a eulogy of Old Drum…

“Gentlemen of the Jury, the best friend a man has in the 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 the 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 absolutely unselfish friend that 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.”

For the first time, perhaps ever, the worth of a hunting dog was shifted from dollars to heartstrings, and guess what? The Missouri Supreme Court sided with heartstrings. Old Drum’s owner was awarded $50 plus court costs, and Old Drum got his due justice along with that priceless statue in the town square. Yes, it was finally established by law that the worth of a pet dog was equal to, or perhaps in excess of, the worth of a hunting dog. But of course we dog lovers have known that all along. Suddenly, that pin of Old Drum 1870 that they gave me so long ago in Warrensburg, is worth the world to me. I wonder how Harry Truman and George Washington Carver are getting along…

Learn more about McAvoy Layne at

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