Mary Burge, Arrow Rock, Mo., wore this dress in the 1930s when Jim the Wonder Dog picked her out of a crowd. What's wondrous about that? His owner told him to pick out the girl in the red dress.
A small group of girls stood in the lobby of the Ruff Hotel in Marshall, Mo., a local meeting place in the 1930s. Three of the girls wore red dresses. One had a polka dot bow in her hair.
Sam VanArsdale, owner of the hotel, called his dog Jim over to the girls and the English Llewellyn setter did something amazing. Sam wasn’t surprised. Jim was always doing something amazing.
“I had this dress on and a red and white spotted bow,” Mary Burge of nearby Arrow Rock said. “Mr. Sam said ‘Jim, go to the girl with the red dress on.’”
Jim just looked at the girls, then walked back to Sam.
“There were three of us with red dresses,” Mary said. “So (Sam) said ‘go over to the girl with the red and white polka dotted dress.’ Well, there were two of us. He went back and you could tell he didn’t know what to do.”
Then VanArsdale narrowed it down for Jim. He told him to pick the girl with the polka dotted bow in her hair.
The dog walked to Mary. She was the girl wearing the bow.
It was displays like this that gave the setter the name Jim the Wonder Dog.
Sam got Jim as a pup in 1925 from a fellow hunter. The hunter had picked the runt of the litter as a joke, so Sam just hoped Jim would be a good quail-hunting dog. He was; flushing out enough quail to earn him a write-up in several Missouri magazines.
Then, when Jim was three, Sam discovered Jim was a lot more than just a good hunting dog.
“To me he was psychic,” Mildred Conner of the Saline County Historical Society said. “They don’t want me to say that, but he knew things before they happened.”
Jim picked the winner of the 1936 presidential election, seven straight Kentucky Derby winners, and could predict the sex of an unborn baby. He could understand commands in English, foreign languages and Morse code. He could also read commands in foreign languages and shorthand – yes, read. Sam would just show Jim a written command and say, “Do whatever it says.” Usually, Jim obliged.
He could also pick out numbers on license plates and he knew colors.
“(Sam would say) ‘Jim someone’s in here with brown and white shoes’ and Jim went and picked him out,” Jim the Wonder Dog buff Ken Yowell said.
Veterinarians at the University of Missouri-Columbia tested Jim and determined that the setter was just a normal dog.
“They thought the owner was giving him hand signals,” Mary said. “But he didn’t do that.”
Stories on Jim were featured in Field and Stream, Missouri Ruralist, Missouri Life, Ripley’s Believe It or Not and The Kansas City Star. Hollywood came calling, but Sam wanted no part of it.
Jim died of natural causes March 18, 1937 and was buried near Marshall’s Ridge Park Cemetery. Although he was not buried inside the cemetery grounds because he was a dog, the cemetery boundaries were later extended and now include Jim’s grave.
A park and water garden at 105-1109 N. Lafayette in Marshall, features a statue of Jim the Wonder Dog and Jim’s history.
Darlene Savage, Jefferson City, has toured the park.
“It really was an amazing story,” Darlene said. “Somehow that dog was touched.”
Ken estimated thousands of people come to Marshall every year just to learn about Jim.
“Some believe. Some don’t,” Ken said. “I do.”
Copyright 2007 by Jason Offutt
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