At the age of eight, Jim knew his ABC's, could spell and do basic math with numbers up to 30.

As Jim continued his studies, the Doc taught him to tell time, know the days of the week, and recognize flags of different countries.

Over a century ago, against the backdrop of a time in America ripe for something to believe in, a heroic student and teacher, together with their allies, helped heal the country struggling to overcome the differences that constantly threatened to separate it. The principles they exemplified matter as much today as they did one hundred years ago, maybe more.

What the Press & OTHERS Said about Jim Key from 1897 – 1906

“(Beautiful Jim Key) is certainly the most astonishing and entertaining exhibition I have ever witnessed. It is indeed a grand object lesson of what kindness and patience will accomplish.”
–– President William McKinley (1897 Nashville World’s Fair)

“I cannot refrain from expressing my admiration for the marvelous intelligence of Beautiful Jim Key. I consider him the most accomplished specimen of his kind I have ever seen.”
–– John Philip Sousa (1897 Pittsburgh Exposition)

“Jim Key, the learned horse . . . can do almost anything but use articulate speech. Under the direction of his attendant and master, William Key, who trained him, Jim added and subtracted numbers, spelled words, told cards like a gambler, and did many other little feats that revealed an astonishing amount of intelligence.”
-- New York Times, December 1, 1897

“Such a performance as Beautiful Jim Key goes through with has never been equaled by any horse in this vicinity.”
–– New York Sun

“Almost all things seem possible to Beautiful Jim Key, except the power of speech. So perfectly is this wonderful horse trained that the trainer does not touch him with hand or whip.”
–– New York Herald

“This educated horse is undoubtedly the most intelligent horse in the world. We have never had any that could begin to do what he so easily does. Nor have I ever seen any such exhibition, though I have witnessed the performance of every trained horse on both continents.”
–– Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette

“Speech alone is denied to Jim Key, the most intelligent horse that ever looked through a bridle or munched oats, but he makes himself as clearly understood as the most accomplished linguist.”
–– Cincinnati Commercial Gazette

“Horse, the pupil, and man, teacher, have been in nearly all the large cities of the country, and in many of them the schools have been dismissed for the day to permit the children to see a horse who can ring up a telephone as easily as he can trot a mile.”
–– Boston Globe

“The soul of a gentleman and scholar inhabits the Beautiful body of wonderful Jim Key. . . to demonstrate . . . that animals reason and think . . . (and) goes to prove that Jim does possess a soul.”
–– Atlanta Constitution

“Suppose our boys and girls were all trained as Jim Key has been trained; suppose they were given education as fitted their needs and capacity.”
–– Omaha World Herald

“(Jim Key performs) with a consistency that lives up to his claim of being the best educated horse in the world.”
-- Minneapolis Journal


Originally subtitled, “HE WAS TAUGHT BY KINDNESS,” the magical, romantic yet true story of how the ugly duckling misfit foal became the tall, strapping BEAUTIFUL JIM KEY –- whose academic abilities were equal to those of a human sixth grader -– includes glimpses into the lost history more fully uncovered by Rivas’s book and the upcoming documentary and feature film:

Jim’s BIG BREAK in 1897, when he was discovered by none other than William McKinley, the President of the United States, at the Tennessee Centennial & World’s Fair.

How his value rose from less than 500 dollars as a five year old to one million when he became the top-selling attraction at the St. Louis World's Fair/Louisiana Purchase Exposition: The Wonder of the Pike

The Silver Horseshoe Building on the Pike at The Louisiana Purchase Exposition 1904

An interview with Dr. William Key, with a biographical sketch of his life: the talents he displayed even as a child for horse and mule taming, only with kindness, rumors of occult abilities, the slave driver who once swore to murder him as a child, how he chose to protect his master’s sons of the side of the Confederacy, also helping Union soldiers and fellow slaves to escape along the Underground Railroad, the famous Civil War Battles in which he participate, building his own Fort Bill in one early battle, returning with enough poker winnings to launch many businesses, including the highly successful Keystone Liniment which allowed him to help his former master’s widow pay off her mortgage.

The brochure details Jim’s fine breeding: by Tennessee Volunteer, his heralded sire, a Hambletonian, out of the legendary dam, Lauretta Queen of Horses, a pure Arabian, stolen from a Persian Sheik by an agent of P.T. Barnum, exhibited in Europe, abused and neglected, brought to America (photo above is Key with a young A.R. Rogers) and bought by the Doc for forty dollars at a circus auction. And Key’s efforts, opening up his own racetrack in Tennessee, to create that perfect match.

RYSDYK’s HAMBLETONIAN, the cornerstone of the STANDARD-BRED, Jim’s great-great grandsire.

Rogers & Key describe how the colt with the finest pedigree in the country turned out to be neither a racehorse nor a showhorse. In fact, when he was foaled in 1889 in Shelbyville, Tennessee, he was so sickly and crippled that his owner, Dr. William Key, hardly expected the ugly duckling of a scrub-colt to live. Instead of naming him for a biblical prophet as he had planned, he chose “Jim” after a wobbly local drunk, but gave him his own last name. But not giving up on him, after treating him with his own medicines, the Doc watched as the misfit colt eventually transformed into a gorgeous mahogany bay.
By the time of Jim’s foaling, the self-taught, entrepreneurial Dr. Key’s businesses included a leading veterinary practice, a racetrack, hotel, restaurant, with his fortune made from his patent medicine Keystone Liniment that he sold in his traveling medicine shows. Though he was eventually married to four notably beautiful, educated women, Dr. Key had no children of his own.
In narrating Jim’s unique education, the Doc notes that he was already fifty-six years old when the sickly Jim was foaled. When his dam died, the orphaned colt refused to be separated from his owner and trainer, causing such a ruckus in the barn that Dr. Key was forced to take the colt into his home. For the first year of his life, Jim lived as a human, absorbing language and abstract concepts to a staggering degree. When he outgrew the house and moved back to the stables, William Key had to set up a cot out there. The two were inseparable companions and partners from then on.

BEAUTIFUL JIM KEY’s showstopper was the act of retrieving a silver dollar from a barrel of water, not drinking a drop.

Traveling and performing with Dr. Key and his medicine show for the next seven years, Jim became a seasoned thespian. The Doc began his serious tutelage of Jim on a whim, thinking he would teach him only one letter of the alphabet, then another, then the rest. Over seven years, he used kindness, patience and rewards to teach Jim to read, spell, recognize money, and do basic arithmetic.

Jim plays postmaster

As a horse who paved the way for all Equine and human superstars, setting the stage for the likes of Seabiscuit and even Elvis Presley, the Celebrated Education Hambletonian Arabian’s lavish lifestyle is further described: His luxurious stables, his bodyguard Monk, his tutors and valets, the private train cars he traveled in, purified water and special hay supplied to him, his appreciation for applause and laughter, not to mention the endless gifts and tributes being sent to him by fans, and his love for teaching people to be kind to animals.

Jim and his “constant companion”, Monk

Jim Key picks up his fan mail

Specifics are provided, backing up the claim that he earned the highest box office receipts in venues across much of the nation, outselling the highest grossing human competitors. Experts opinions, testimonials, and endorsements are listed, together with the results of a Harvard Study that concluded his abilities were the result not of a hoax or hypnosis, but of “simply education.”


Far ahead of his time, Albert R. Rogers pioneered celebrity endorsement advertising deals & Doc Key tapped his connections to obtain licensing for Beautiful Jim Key

THE SOCIETY HORSE had his own line of OFFICE equipment

The POWER OF KINDNESS to challenge prejudices, promote peace, literacy, non-violence, and a recognition of our connections that transcend race and species are evident in the mere sampling of the numerous awards and recognition bestowed on the heroes: from William Key becoming the 1st AFRICAN-AMERICAN RECIPIENT OF MSPCA’S HUMANITARIAN GOLD MEDAL to Jim’s being the 1st NON-HUMAN RECIPIENT OF NUMEROUS HUMANE & LITERACY AWARDS.

ALBERT ROGERS’s estate, “Glenmere” in South Orange, New Jersey – Beautiful Jim Key’s “second home”


Not long after their retirement in 1906, Monk, Jim and the Doc retired to their home in Shelbyville, where all three are buried today. Of their many contributions, perhaps the most unsung is that of William Key’s transformational impact on Black History, acknowledged in the following review of BEAUTIFUL JIM KEY by Mim Eichler Rivas:

From BOOKPAGE, February Black History Month Review 2005 by Ed Hotaling.

Beautiful Jim Key: The Lost History of a Horse and a Man Who Changed the World also documents an animal-based story, but quite a different one. Mim Eichler Rivas spotlights Beautiful Jim Key, a horse whose intelligence and ability paved the way for a new appreciation of horses and all other animals as well. Key's owner and trainer was Dr. William Key of Shelbyville, Tennessee, an ex-slave who was also a veterinarian and entrepreneur. Dr. Key eschewed cruelty and the use of force, preferring to use kind words, a gentle touch and a calm, almost reverent demeanor toward his horse.

Dr. Key became a celebrated figure in his own right, a famous black American who wasn't an entertainer, athlete or activist. His stately, dignified and educated image and the results of his training made him a quiet hero during a time long before the civil rights era. He traveled with his horse to places where he was regarded as something below the animal he was presenting, yet his openness, kindness with Jim Key and overall attitude often softened the hearts of those who would otherwise oppose him solely due to his race. Beautiful Jim Key contains some striking descriptions of the horse's maneuvers and performance moves, as well as a poignant account of an amazing relationship between owner/trainer and animal that in a small but significant way helped make a difference socially during the early part of the 20th century.



The official Site for Beautiful Jim Key, and the book by Mim Eichler Rivas. All material © 2007.
Photographs contained herein are used by permission & may not be reproduced for commercial purposes.