I wrote last time about Marshall, Missouri. Marshall does have one claim to fame—it was the home of Jim the Wonder Dog.
Owned by Sam Van Arsdale of Marshall, Jim was a Llewellin setter (an English setter) that lived from 1925 to 1937. Jim could allegedly understand human speech and even human thoughts. When asked to go put his paw on the blue car, for example, he went right to the correct car. He could answer questions in languages other than English, and he predicted the sex of unborn babies and the winners of horse races.
My father had an English setter when I was growing up, and that dog couldn’t do much. He did point out quail well, but didn’t have many opportunities to exercise that talent. He hated being in the house, until his old age, when he finally realized that warmth in winter was more important than fresh air.
In any event, I held a healthy skepticism about the tales of Jim the Wonder Dog. I learned about Jim shortly after I moved to Kansas City, on one of my trips to Marshall. My father-in-law had witnessed Jim perform. I used to laugh at the unlikelihood that a dog could manage all these feats.
“It’s true!” my father-in-law said, offended that I wouldn’t believe the legends of his hometown.
Jim is one of the most famous residents of Marshall, and was laid to rest in the human cemetery in town. In fact, his grave is visited more than that of any of the people buried in town.
There is a biography of Jim, entitled Jim the Wonder Dog, by Clarence Dewey Mitchell. It is now out of print, but we have a copy, and have given many copies as gifts (mostly as gag gifts, it is true).
In 1999, Jim was honored with a park in Marshall named after him. The park is maintained by Friends of Jim The Wonder Dog, a nonprofit corporation. Jim even has his own website now, where you can learn more about his story and buy memorabilia.
Our kids were raised on Jim the Wonder Dog stories. When my daughter took her friends to visit her grandparents in Marshall when she was in high school, no trip was complete without a visit to the Jim the Wonder Dog park.
When my daughter was in college, she wore a Jim the Wonder Dog t-shirt to her crew practice one morning. But one of her friends misread the shirt, not seeing all the letters, and thought my daughter’s shirt said “I’M THE WONDER DOG”—which gave rise to peals of laughter. And so the Georgetown crew team learned of Jim the Wonder Dog. A few of them even got t-shirts.
My husband and his canoeing buddies, most of whom hailed from North Carolina, passed through Marshall on their way back to Kansas City from Ozark rivers. They stopped at the Jim the Wonder Dog park, all bought t-shirts, and now call themselves the Wonder Dawgs.
Old-time legends live on in new generations.
What stories come from your hometown’s history?