COLUMBIA — Rep. Joe Aull wasn’t around yet when Jim the Wonder Dog claimed Marshall as his stomping ground. After all, Jim was born in 1925, and Aull didn’t move to the area till 1997.
But stories of the incredible dog have been passed down, he said — enough stories for Aull to champion a Missouri bill making Jim the state historical dog.
House Bill 1863 was proposed earlier this week by Aull, D-Marshall, and aims to make Jim the Wonder Dog an official part of Missouri history. In Marshall, northwest of Columbia, Jim is already a celebrity, Aull said. Marshall residents urged Aull to sponsor the bill.
"Probably if you talk about Marshall’s most famous citizen, a lot of people will tell you it’s Jim the Wonder Dog," he said.
The dog, a Llewellin setter, is the stuff of Missouri legend for his ability to identify cars by their make, color and license plate numbers, species of trees and people by their clothing. He also famously and correctly predicted the outcome of seven Kentucky Derbies, according to folklore and the Jim the Wonder Dog website, which refers to Jim as a "Llewellyn" setter breed.
"They put the list of names in front of him, and he’d make some indication of who he thought would win," Aull said. "One time they asked him to go find a red Plymouth, and he went right out to it and identified the car."
Jim has been featured in "Ripley’s Believe It or Not!," on Animal Planet and in many newspaper articles published across the country, said Donna Huston, Jim the Wonder Dog historian and long-time Marshall resident. There was also a book published about Jim, written by Clarence Dewey Mitchell in 1942.
Huston and others wrote letters to Missouri lawmakers asking them to make Jim the Missouri state historical dog. On Friday, she said, she received an envelope with the text of Aull’s proposed bill enclosed.
In 1998, Huston and three other people established the Jim the Wonder Dog Garden, which was built in downtown Marshall where the Ruff Hotel, Jim’s home, once stood, she said. She had been collecting newspaper articles about Jim for about 50 years until she recently handed them over to Larry Arrowood, the current president of the Friends of Jim the Wonder Dog Organization.
"He was amazed," Huston said. "I sort of piled them on the bed."
If you were to look through the garden’s visitor’s log, Huston said, you’d see people from all over the world who have traveled to Marshall to learn about the famous dog and view his bronze statue and grave marker at Marshall’s Ridge Park Cemetery. Jim the Wonder Dog died in 1937.
"His grave is out in the people part; there isn’t another pet that’s where the people are buried," Huston said. "Still things are being left at the grave, like a bone or a toy. People still decorate that grave."
The Friends of Jim the Wonder Dog Organization is trying to establish a building next to the garden to house a permanent Jim exhibit and memorabilia shop. Huston’s article collection would be used in the exhibit, she said.
As it goes for most legends, there will always be doubters, Huston said. But eyewitness accounts show Jim was one talented pooch, and Aull believes he deserves a place in Missouri’s books.
"It’s not a hoax — a lot of these things are true," Aull said. "This dog had some uncanny abilities. I can’t sit here and tell you that there is no other dog like Jim, but he was special and certainly worthy of recognition."