I believe it’s important to establish this is a true story. I’ve been to Marshall and talked to people who saw Jim, or who had parents who did. My next door neighbor grew up in Kansas City, and her dad told me about seeing Jim when he was traveling through Marshall.
Yes, there are elements of a fish story here. Bass grow bigger as the story is repeated. That’s why I have tried to stick to verifiable events. (If you would like to read an in-depth story about Jim, check out the August 1985 issue of Outdoor Life.)
There was an English setter named Jim who lived in Missouri in the late 1920’s who could read minds and predict the future.
Before you start uncontrollable, and sometimes fatal, snickering, I would like to point out that perfectly legitimate scientific research says the only logical explanation for ole Buzzy knowing when you’ll be home is that ole Buzzy is psychic.
But knowing when you’ll be home from the pool hall with some lame excuse about having to finish the Gorgonzola Industries report is a parlor trick compared to what thousands saw that dog in Missouri do.
The dog in question was born in 1925 and was a pure-bred English setter with champions for parents. He was given by the breeder to his friend Sam Van Arsdale in Marshall, Missouri. Sam was an avid bird hunter and proprietor of the local hotel. Sam thought the gift of the puppy was a joke. Champion though he may be, the puppy was the runt of the litter and lacked the necessary motivation to be a champion bird dog. (Read “lazy.”)
The dog wouldn’t hunt. But Sam grew more and more attached to the puppy. He named him “Jim” after a dog he saw in a Will Rogers’ movie, and remained committed to making lazy little Jim into a bird dog.
Sam and Jim went out every day. Sam hunted, Jim slept under the truck. One full year… Sam shoots, Jim snores.
But then things changed. Big time. And the small Missouri town that looks like a Norman Rockwell painting took a flying leap into a parallel universe.
It all started on another one of those days when Sam hauled Jim out of the hotel for another shoot and snore session in the fields.
According to people who were along that day, instead of curling up on the seat, Jim bounded out of the truck, raced into the woods, and took up point. (Author’s note: I don’t hunt. All I know is that bird dogs point, flush and fetch. How you get them to do that is beyond me. I do understand, however, that for a lot of bird dogs this whole routine is almost instinctive.)
That morning, Jim did all the right things. He flushed birds relentlessly. It was, Sam said, like Jim knew instinctively where then birds were. Sam figured that all the training had finally found a home in Jim’s doggie brain. Maybe.
That was before Jim decided to put himself in the history books. It started when Sam said to a friend that he was going to go rest by an oak tree. Sam turns around and there’s Jim with his paw on the oak tree. Cute dog. Then Sam said, we’re told, “I wonder what he would have done if I had said maple tree?” Jim left the oak tree, went to a maple tree, and sat down.
“Hell, good thing I didn’t say “stump.”
Jim went to the stump.
OK, so Jim knows his trees.
Sam and his friends kept calling out others things… bushes, fences, vines, and trucks… and Jim went to them all. Cute dog.
Jim was just warming up.
Over time Sam’s English settler became known as Jim The Wonder Dog. Some of Jim’s notable achievements included his ability to identify cars by color, or make. He could be told a tag number and then go outside and find the car with that tag.
He could identify guests of the hotel by room number.
He could follow commands in foreign languages, including Greek.
In a visit to the Missouri State Legislature he followed commands given to him in Morse code.
Go to Google and search for Jim The Wonder Dog. You’ll see.
Did Jim do all the things people said he did? I think so. Besides, I can’t find anybody who can prove he didn’t. It’s important to remember that Sam Van Arsdale had a high school education and had never been more than 100 miles from home. He didn’t speak any foreign languages. During the demonstration at the Missouri legislature Sam stayed out of the room.
Jim died in 1937 and is buried in the city cemetery in Marshall, Missouri. On the site of Sam’s hotel the city has built the “Jim The Wonder Dog Memorial Garden.” It’s tasteful, well maintained, and the centerpiece is a beautiful bronze statue of Jim.
The story of Jim The Wonder Dog makes me happy. He was, by all accounts, a good and loyal friend and a smart dog with a special gift.