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  • July 31st, 2018


By Joel M. Vance

For a quail hunter, a dog’s nose is the animal’s most important component. For the dog, his dick is paramount. Consider how much time a dog spends licking it. Which brings to mind the old joke about the two guys who see a dog self-laving and one says, “Gee, I wish I could do that,” and the other guy replies, “Don’t you think you should pet him a little first?”

Hollywood has Lassie and Rin-Tin-Tin, but only Missouri has a famous dog with a painted penis. The dog is Old Drum and the appendage in question actually is on an anatomically-correct statue of him in the courthouse square at Warrensburg. It probably would make more sense, historically, to have the statue with its fangs buried in a bleating lamb, but instead Old Drum stands in a noble pose as if he were Rin-Tin-Tin on a mission of mercy.

Mark Twain, Missouri’s most famous ironist, no doubt would have appreciated the incongruity of erecting a statue to a dog that almost certainly was guilty of sheep-killing and whose only notable accomplishment was that he got killed for it. And, to compound the irony, the fellow who shot Old Drum was nicknamed “Dick.”

And, with his notoriously bawdy sense of humor, Mr. Twain would have commented with unbridled zest on the repeated assaults on the dignity of Old Drum. Unfortunately for the world of pungent comment, Twain had been dead for many years before the bronze likeness of Old Drum came to rest on the Johnson County Courthouse lawn in 1958.

Warrensburg not only is the site of the courtroom trial that made Old Drum famous; it also is the home of Central Missouri State University and it is a well-known fact that any animal statue with paintable parts erected (pardon) in a college town is going to get enhanced by artistically-inclined students. No matter how many times the town fathers darken Drum’s dinger, it shortly regains its non-canine glow.

Twain did write this about dogs: “”If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.” Think what he could have said about a dog with a decorated dick. I also have a T-shirt with a quote by Groucho Marx which says that “Outside of a dog a man’s best friend is a book. Inside of a dog it’s very dark.” Real wisdom is not limited to the insane tweets of our insane pretend president.

The living Old Drum went to the great Sheep Meadow in the Sky in 1870. He belonged to a fellow named Charles Burden, but strayed onto property owned by Leonidas Hornsby, whereupon Hornsby’s nephew shot him. Burden then sued Hornsby and set in motion the events that led to immortality for old Drum.

Burden ultimately won $50 in damages after the case went all the way to the state supreme court, but it was in the lower court that Drum made history. Burden’s lawyer was George Vest, later a U.S. Senator. Vest delivered what has come to be known as the Tribute to the Dog and everyone has heard parts of it: “The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world…is his dog.”

It went on from there, presumably bringing tears to the eyes of the sentimental and dog-loving jury. There was no direct transcription of the speech, but it was pieced together later on by the recollections of various onlookers and no doubt refined, the way a good story always is. Let’s face it, had Drum not been whacked, he would have been no more than a sheep-killing hound lost in history.

Wikepedia, the sprawling on-line encyclopedia of mostly useless facts, offers a list of famous dogs, including such luminaries as Sam, a Chinese Crested hairless dog which was a three time winner as the World’s Ugliest Dog.

But the list does not mention either Old Drum or Jim the Wonder Dog, Missouri’s most famous dog, perhaps the most famous dog ever. Both arguably are more deserving of lasting fame than, say, Millie, the springer spaniel owned by the George H.W. Bush family. Millie wrote a best-selling book with considerable help from the Bush family (kind of like what George W. would need were he to write a book). Jimmy Carter has written many fine books and Obama also is literate. Donald Trump, without ghostwriters, couldn’t write graffiti on a toilet wall, although he is eminently suited for it.

Well, Jim the Wonder Dog also wrote a book that did not become a best-seller through no fault of Jim’s. If ever a dog could write a best-seller, it would have been Jim, not that uppity Republican bitch. Jim was something else and theories abound from extraterrestrials to reincarnation.

Where Drum was notable for the words of his eulogist, Jim was an awesome presence in himself. There also is a statue honoring Jim, dedicated in 1999, in the Jim the Wonder Dog Memorial Park in Marshall, site of Jim’s grave and much of his life. And there is a college in Marshall, but so revered is the Wonder Dog that the students leave Jim’s nether regions alone.

Jim was a Llewellen setter, owned by Sam Van Arsdale, a Missouri hotelier and quail hunter. Jim was a superb quail dog, but that’s like saying Monet also was a good cook. While Jim excelled in the field, it was in town that he dropped jaws with his decidedly un-canine talents.

Jim the Wonder Dog was from a kennel in Louisiana and came to Sam Van Arsdale as a free puppy, a gift from a traveling salesman who had stayed at Van Arsdale’s hotel. The puppy seemed uninterested in being trained, but a local trainer said he felt the dog had intelligence that seemed almost human.

But what he did transcended intelligence and skyrocketed into the realm of the supernatural. The list of his mental exploits is almost unending and if it was some sort of trickery or exceptional dog training, the evidence escaped thousands of witnesses over a number of years, including a joint session of the Missouri Legislature (normally politicians fool everyone else, not the other way around). Jim, in short, was the most spooky dog in history.

He obeyed commands given in foreign languages or Morse code, neither of which his master knew. And he predicted the future, although picking the 1936 Yankees to win the World Series wasn’t much of a trick, given a lineup featuring Ruth, Gehrig, et al–but how many dogs were making predictions of any kind? (Jim predicted seven Kentucky Derby winners in a row.)

Werner Nagel, longtime writer for the Missouri Conservation Department, once met Jim and said, “He had strange eyes.” A photo of Jim, glancing sideways at the camera, would agree—Jim has the expression of a creature that knows more than you do.

Van Arsdale’s niece played with the puppy and said the little dog seemed to understand what she was saying. By November of 1925 Jim was eight months old and Van Arsdale took him to the field. Jim walked into a field and went on point—no fooling around looking for birds. He seemed to know exactly where they were and he did this for the next 11 years.

Van Arsdale said he had shot more than 5,000 quail over Jim, a figure hard to believe—Jim lived a dozen years and that would have required Van Arsdale to shoot more than 500 quail a year. Judging by the accomplishments of our bird dogs, I sometimes feel there aren’t 500 quail and the whole damn state.

Jim’s other incredible talents became apparent when it appeared he would respond to anything Van Arsdale asked him to do: “Show me a black oak tree, Jim,” and Jim would amble over to a black oak and sit down. Van Arsdale would write down a license number and instructions to find that car and tell Jim to do what the paper said…and Jim would find the car. Tap out a Morse code message and Jim would do what it asked. Or ask him a question in French and Jim would respond.

The dog appeared before a joint session of the Missouri Legislature and pointed out people who were described to him. A friend of Van Arsdale’s said, “Let’s see if he can show me the car in which I came from Jefferson City.” Of course Jim did by walking to the car and putting his paw on it.

Van Arsdale ran a hotel in Marshall, and also in Sedalia. It didn’t take long for Jim to become a canine phenomenon. His puppies, three males, two females, showed none of his talents. Van Arsdale kept all the puppies and turned down a thousand dollar offer for one—big money today, much less in the pit of the Depression.

Van Arsdale could tell the dog to find a DeSoto (tougher to do today than it was then) and Jim would find the car that matched. Could be a trick, said doubters. Some said Van Arsdale was giving Jim body language hints but if he was he didn’t know it and no one ever caught him at it. “I don’t know the explanation,” Van Arsdale said. “Some say it’s mental telepathy. Maybe it is. It’s certain Jim won’t make a move unless I know what he is being asked to do.”

You’d be more suspicious if Van Arsdale had been collecting admissions or peddling Jim’s hairy body in the movies, but he never made a dime from his uncanny best friend. The New York Times offered to bring Jim and Van Arsdale to Washington to meet President Franklin Roosevelt, but Van Arsdale declined (apparently no one asked Jim). Van Arsdale also turned down an offer of $365,000 in Depression dollars (today, millions) to take Jim on tour for a year. “Some people said I had a trick with the dog,” Van Arsdale once said. “Was there ever a man who wouldn’t sell a trick for $365,000?”

All things, good and great, come to an end and they did for Jim and this world when he quietly died on March 18, 1937. (Will Rogers said, “If dogs don’t go to Heaven when they die, I want to go where they go.”) Van Arsdale was devastated by the loss of his longtime friend who meant more to him than anything in the world.

The story goes that Van Arsdale wanted Jim buried in the family plot in Marshall’s Park Ridge cemetery, but the cemetery authorities turned him down. So Van Arsdale buried Jim just outside the cemetery boundary in a specially-built casket…and the cemetery has expanded since Jim died in 1937 and the grave now is inside the cemetery, with a headstone reading “Jim the Wonder Dog.” There often still are flowers, left by fans of the remarkable dog.

And no sleazy desecrations on Jim’s private parts. Drum, however, is a dog of a different color…..

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