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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sedalia Spiels - Jim the Wonder Dog

In 1925 Louisiana a champion bird hunting Llewellyn English Setter had a litter of puppies.  One was reportedly so ugly that it had to be given away.  The recipient was Mr. Sam VanArsdale a hotel owner and operator in Marshal, Missouri a few miles north of Sedalia.  He named the puppy Jim.

Like many ugly ducklings, Jim grew into a fine looking animal but with two qualifiers.  One was that Jim's eyes were unusual for a dog.  Most who saw him said they looked almost human.  The second oddity was that Jim was psychic.

When Jim was old enough Sam enrolled him in a training school for bird dogs but Jim refused to cooperate and flunked out.  Sam, having already grown found of Jim would take him on walks in the near by woods.  Once Sam took his gun to hunt quail and took Jim along for company.  Jim realized what Sam was after and took him immediately to a bevy of quail, and then another, and another until Sam was worn out.  Sam thought Jim had a natural ability and was very proud of him.  He told Jim that they ought to go rest awhile under "that hickory tree yonder."  Jim lead the way.  Sam thought that was sort of amusing and no real feat to accidentally find a hickory tree in mid Missouri.  Just for fun Sam told Jim to find an elm tree, he did.  Then he suggested to Jim to go to an oak tree, he did, walnut tree, he did, an ash and so on and so on.  Jim never once made a mistake.

Sam rushed home and made his wife come out to the woods and had Jim repeat the performance.  Sam felt something was up.

Sam started asking Jim to do other things around the Ruff Hotel and Jim's legend grew and people would come from miles around just to watch Jim do things like locate cars in the parking lot by color, make, model and even license plate.  The "tricks" began to get more complicated and eventually a way was figured out how Jim could select the sex of unborn babies, identify certain people in a crowd, and pick horse race winners at the Stare Fair.

Ripley's Believe It Or Not picked up on Jim's unique ability which lead to the University of Missouri School of Veterinary Medicine to run tests on Jim.  They found nothing particularly physically different with Jim but did discover that Jim could follow detailed commands not only when spoken to but when put in writing.  Even instructions written in foreign languages. 

Jim was written about in various dog and hunting magazines.  He even appeared once on the cover of Life.

It wasn't very long until Sam was offered a contract of $100,000 from a Hollywood movie studio to feature Jim as a wonder dog as to compete with the studios turning out pictures about Lassie and Rin Tin Tin.  Sam turned down all offers of money that he felt would exploit Jim's abilities because he said he did not "think it right to financially benefit from Jim's God given talent." 

Jim died in 1937 and was buried at the corner of the Ridge Park Cemetery in Marshall.

My grandfather had lived in Sedalia as a young man and use to tell me stories about Jim.  I did not give the stories much credence because grandpa had been known to fabricate a little. However when I moved to Sedalia years later I was chatting with some of the older school teachers and the subject of Jim came up.  They immediately said that my grandpa's stories about Jim were true and they even added a few of their own.

I never really met anyone who actually saw Jim or witnessed any of his "tricks" but they all new someone who had.

In 1999 a memorial park was established for Jim the Wonder Dog at his grave in Marshall.  It is the most visited tourist site in all of town.           


  1. Well, I personally believe it as I had a little water spaniel that could go to colors when I instructed her, so I do believe just like people with abnormally high IQ's dogs can be genius' also.