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April 5, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Missouri’s celebrity hounds are about to battle from beyond the grave for the coveted title of Missouri’s best friend. Jim the Wonder Dog, Old Drum and Lewis and Clark’s trusty companion, Seaman, are in the running for the title.
State Rep. Joe Aull, D-Marshall, has cast his vote for Jim the Wonder Dog in his state dog bill. Steve Friedman, a former Columbia Tribune reporter, wrote an extensive article on the Wonder Dog in 1982. He claims that this Llewellyn English setter from Marshall would follow commands in English and seven other languages. During the 1920s and 1930s, he predicted the winner of seven Kentucky Derbies and one World Series by pawing the winner’s name. Perhaps most impressively, he was the precursor to ultrasound and successfully predicted the sex of unborn babies. Was there anything this superdog couldn’t do?
“He seemed to really touch everyone whose lives he came into contact with,” Friedman says, laughing. “He still gets visitors to his grave.”
Although Friedman says he sympathizes with skeptics, there are plenty of eyewitnesses to Jim’s wonders, including 600 faculty members and students at MU in the fall of 1931. There is an added sweetness to the story: Jim’s owner declined a pricey offer to take Jim to Hollywood because he didn’t want to subject his beloved dog to the stress.
Old Drum was an average hunting hound, and only after death did he rise to doggy stardom. State Rep. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, thinks Old Drum is most deserving of the title of Missouri’s best friend.
Leonidas Hornsby, the neighbor and brother-in-law of Old Drum’s owner, suspected that the dog was poaching his sheep, so he shot him on Oct. 28, 1869. His owner, Charles Burden, took the dog-killing neighbor to court and won a lofty suit that traveled all the way to the Missouri Supreme Court. Burden ended up with $50. During the initial trial’s closing arguments, famous lawyer and congressman George Graham Vest coined the phrase “a man’s best friend is his dog.”
Years later, Old Drum remains a beloved furry former resident in the minds of Warrensburg’s residents. Cynthia Nold, reporter for Warrensburg’s The Daily Star-Journal, has extensively researched Old Drum and thinks he’s the best Missouri pup. Jackson County’s fourth-graders share Nold’s opinion; they managed to get the ear of Rep. Hoskins.
“We have a state bird, a state flower and a state tree, and they asked why we don’t have a state dog,” Hoskins says. “I said, ‘I’m not sure why we don’t have a state dog.’ And they said, ‘What about Old Drum?’” And thus, the bill was born.
Rep. Chrissy Sommers, R-St. Charles, is voting with Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, whose beloved black Newfoundland, Seaman, traveled with the explorers on their journey West. Unlike the other dogs, Seaman was born and purchased in Pittsburgh. Hopefully the Missouri General Assembly won’t ask for his birth certificate.
Although Native Americans offered several beaver pelts in exchange for Seaman, Lewis refused to part with the dog. Seaman was clever company and caught many fat squirrels, which the explorers would fry and eat. Lewis and Clark’s journals both mention him on several occasions.
Friedman has also researched Seaman. Although he is still rooting for Jim the Wonder Dog, he admits that Seaman was impressive.
“He definitely survived a beaver bite, kidnapping by Native Americans and horrible mosquitoes,” Friedman says. “Lewis and Clark actually ate 263 dogs during the trip, so that must have made him a little nervous.” No matter how desperate times were, Seaman never ended up on the menu.
Oregon author Roland Smith wrote The Captain’s Dog, a children’s book about the Lewis and Clark expedition from Seaman’s perspective. “Lewis walked a lot,” Smith says. “He usually had Seaman with him. That’s the dog Missouri should pick.”
Sommers agrees with Smith and says, coincidentally enough, fourth-graders asked her to propose the bill. She suggested to the fourth-graders, who were on a field trip, to come up with a bill for her to present to the House. They decided to choose Seaman as the state dog because he has several statues in the state and is loved in Missouri. “I feel I succeeded in doing that with them even if Seaman doesn’t win as state dog,” Sommers says. “I got the kids a little more interested in the process, and that’s important.”