Once in a while, we run into a quirky statue or monument in our travels, but the one we found in Marshall, Missouri was especially quirky. It was a park with a statue of a dog. This wasn’t just any ordinary dog though. This was the famous “Jim, The Wonder Dog!”
Jim’s story began in 1925 in Louisiana. Born a Llewellin Setter, he came from a litter that was pureblood but was considered the runt of the bunch. According to the organization “Friends of Jim the Wonder Dog“, he was purchased at half the going price by Sam Van Arsdale, who then worked with a trainer to try to teach Jim to hunt. He didn’t show much promise during training though, typically laying in the shade while the other dogs did the work. However, he was paying attention, because as soon as he was taken to a hunt that fall, he did exactly what he was supposed to do, finding quail, holding steady until it was shot, and acting on Van Arsdale’s command of fetch immediately.
Van Arsdale, living in Marshall, Missouri, took his prize pup state to state on hunts, with Jim knowing exactly where to hunt, where not to hunt, and gaining his master thousands of birds. Jim’s ability as a hunter didn’t go unnoticed by others either, being called by Outdoor Life Magazine “The Hunting Dog of the Country”.
The story goes that Jim’s other amazing abilities were discovered by accident during a hunt when his owner told him they should rest under a Hickory tree nearby. With many trees to choose from that were not Hickory, Jim allegedly chose the right one. Van Arsdale then commanded Jim to go to other specific types of trees, which he did without help.
It was as if Jim could not only understand what Van Arsdale was commanding but soon would exhibit talents beyond human. His list of abilities included finding a specific car, with a specific license plate number, or a car by color, or from another state. It is reported that he could also pick out, from a crowd, specific people of the community, whether they knew Jim or not. And at the height of his talents, Jim the Wonder Dog had the ability to predict the future, choosing the winner of the 1936 Baseball World Series, the sex of unborn infants, and seven consecutive Kentucky Derby’s.
Owner Sam Van Arsdale also communicated commands to Jim in other ways, with similar results, including foreign languages and shorthand. Called before a joint session of the Missouri Legislature, Jim was put through one of the biggest tests, a communication method even Van Arsdale didn’t understand…Morse Code. Attempting to debunk the dog’s amazing abilities, and believing that Van Arsdale was somehow “guiding” the dog in another way, the code was tapped out instructing Jim to go to a specific person, which to the astonishment of the Legislators he did. Jim the Wonder Dog was even featured in Ripley’s Believe it or Not.
Over the years, Sam Arsdale kept Jim close by, always worried he would be kidnapped or harmed by gambling interests or others. Arsdale reportedly turned down over $350,000 from Paramount for that very reason and denied offers from food companies to use his amazing pet in their advertising.
Jim passed away at the age of 12 on March 18, 1937, and at his owners’ request, was buried just outside of Ridge Park Cemetery in Marshall, which has since grown around his gravestone. Skeptics still say that his owner was giving the dog multiple choice questions and leading him to the right answers, but those that saw Jim in action begged to differ, at least according to the news of the time.
In 1999, Jim the Wonder Dog Memorial Gardens in Marshall was dedicated to the memory of this incredible canine. Wonder Dog Day is held each May in Marshall, and there is a Wonder Dog Museum as well.
Friends of Jim the Wonder Dog
101 North Lafayette
Marshall, MO 65340
© Dave Alexander, Legends of America. updated July 2021
Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium (Florida)