Warrensburg’s exciting future remains anchored to its colorful frontier past. The town’s history dates back to 1833 when Martin Warren arrived from Kentucky and settled along the Osage Indian Trail. In 1834, the county of Johnson was designated, and the town of Columbus was the center of county government until 1836. In 1838, a group of early Missouri leaders, including Daniel Morgan Boone, chose the site for the county courthouse in the growing village that was to become Warrensburg. The county court commissioned the building of the courthouse in that same year, and it took four years to complete. Incorporation as a city came in 1855, and the railroad arrived in 1864. A thriving new commercial district sprouted along the tracks, five blocks southeast of the original town (or town square), and nearby sandstone quarries helped spur growth. Important historical sites maintained by the Johnson County Historical Society on old Main Street include the 1838 Old Courthouse, Mary Miller Smiser Heritage Library and Museum, the Johnson County Courthouse (now over 100 years old), and the restored 1890s train depot that houses The Greater Warrensburg Area Chamber of Commerce office. Preserving our past has become a focus for our community and the Johnson County Historical Society. One of the parks, located in the city’s historic area, has been restored and is now known as Blind Boone Park. The completed restoration includes a gazebo for public musical events, picnic areas, and a statue of Blind Boone. J.W. “Blind” Boone was a beloved member of our community who, blind and of multi-ethnic heritage, succeeded in working past many physical, cultural and economic limitations to become a famous concert pianist.
Another citizen’s group has formed to preserve Howard School, one of the oldest and the most historically significant black schools in Missouri. These two exciting projects enhance the work already accomplished by the Johnson County Historical Society. Old Drum, our beloved hunting dog mascot, is one of the most celebrated figures from Warrensburg’s past. When U.S. senator-to-be George Graham Vest delivered his eulogy to the dog in 1870 in a Johnson County courtroom, he had no idea his words would make him famous. His words, coining the phrase “Man’s best friend is his dog,” quickly won him fame across Missouri and beyond. Vest made the speech while arguing in court on behalf of Charles Burden, whose favorite dog was shot by the ward of Leonidas Hornsby. Burden sued and the case eventually wound up in the Missouri Supreme Court where the plaintiff was awarded $50. The trial advanced Vest’s political career, and in 1958 his Tribute to a Dog was cast in bronze beneath the statue of Old Drum on the courthouse lawn. Vest’s eulogy has won world fame and has been cited as one of the greatest speeches given during the 19th-century. The story of Old Drum is known and loved the world over.
THE ORIGIN OF ‘MAN’S BEST FRIEND’
By George Graham Vest “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 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 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.” “Gentlemen of the jury: A man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, when 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 and sores that come in 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, 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.”