Jim was born in 1925 in Louisiana, an adorable black and white English Setter pup (specifically, a Llewellyn Setter) who eventually came to live with Sam VanArsdale, a hotel owner and avid hunter in Marshall, Missouri. Jim and Sam were great buddies, and though early efforts to train Jim for the field seemed to go nowhere, Jim’s first foray into the field was impressive. He immediately went to a covey of quail, came up on perfect point, held steady until the quail was shot, and immediately brought the bird to Mr. VanArsdale on the order to “fetch.” Jim proved to be a marvelous hunting dog, at one point earning the title, “The Hunting Dog of the Country” by Outdoor Life Magazine.
Being a champion bird-dog, however, isn’t what made Jim the “wonder dog.” By the time Jim went to greater fields in the sky, he had predicted Kentucky Derby winners (seven winners in a row), carried out instructions given to him in any foreign language, shorthand, or Morse Code, forecast the sex of unborn babies, the occupations of perfect strangers, and the winner of the 1936 World Series (the Yankees).
It started, it’s said, when on a scorching hot day, Van Arsdale looked around for a shade tree and said to Jim, “Let’s go sit under that Hickory tree.” In her article, The Amazing Talents of Jim the Wonder Dog, author, Linda Cole, continues: “Amazed, Van Arsdale watched as Jim ran over to the hickory tree and sat down. Thinking it was a fluke, Van Arsdale named other trees and Jim correctly identified each one. Jim went on to be able to locate cars by the license plate number, and more.
He was featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Animal Planet Television, performed before the Missouri Legislature, and at the Missouri State Fair. Videos were made about Jim, including this one by Animal Planet, and this one about Evelyn Counts’ efforts to memorialize the dog.
Jim is buried in Marshall’s Ridge Park Cemetery with a grave stone and statue, and is probably the only animal in a people cemetery. Caretakers say his is the most visited grave there, and it’s seldom without flowers and coins left on it. In the winter, student often put a scarf on Jim to keep him “warm.”
The park is located on the former location of Sam Van Arsdale’s hotel, Jim’s likeness created by Andy Davis, a Columbia sculptor. You can see more on Jim at his website.