Beautiful Jim Key's Owner, William Key, Passes Away - October 18, 1909

When a scraggly bay colt was born in 1889, he was sick and crippled and not expected to live. But thanks to the treatment and care from his owner, Dr. William Key of Shelbyville, Tennessee, the colt not only survived, but flourished. Dr. William Key was a former slave and was self-taught in veterinary treatments, and he used some of his own treatments to successfully help the foal recover.

The foal’s dam died soon after his birth, and the foal, attached to Dr. William Key, would not allow Dr. William Key to leave him. Dr. Key named the foal Jim Key and soon began bringing Jim Key into his house. Dr. William Key worked as a traveling veterinarian and sold Keystone Liniment, often traveling for long periods at a time. Dr. William Key soon brought Jim Key on the road with him, and Jim Key performed in William Key’s medicine shows.

Dr. William Key trained Jim Key with kindness, and he stressed the power of kindness in all of his presentations and shows. William Key taught Jim Key to recognize all 26 letters of the alphabet. Jim Key learned to spell, to read, and to do math, among other stunts. Through the entire training process, kindness and rewards were the only incentive that William Key used.

As Jim Key’s training progressed and the horse was able to perform more and more incredible feats, word of his talents spread quickly. In 1897, Jim Key and Dr. William Key performed for President William McKinley, and Jim Key was presented as an educated horse. In addition to reading and writing, Jim Key could also sort mail, use a telephone, and even tell time. The pair garnered great attention from the press, and the press quickly altered Jim Key’s name to the more memorable Beautiful Jim Key.

Jim Key performed with Dr. William Key from 1897 to 1906. The pair performed for millions of audience members, and Jim Key became an American household name. Promotional materials, like postcards, buttons, and photos, were produced in bulk. During every performance, Dr. William Key promoted kindness to animals and spoke out against animal cruelty. Audience members were encouraged to support humane animal groups, and children pledged to be kind to animals.

With Jim Key’s success, Dr. William Key became famous. After his death on October 18, 1909 at the age of 76, he was mourned by many. Jim Key later died in 1912.

Want to learn more about Beautiful Jim Key and Dr. William Key? You can visit, and you might also want to pick up the book Beautiful Jim Key: The Lost History of the World’s Smartest Horse by Mim E. Rivas. Additionally, Morgan Freeman is scheduled to star as Dr. William Key in a movie dramatizing the life of Dr. William Key and Beautiful Jim Key. Titled “Beautiful Jim Key,” the film will be directed by Robert Rodat.

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Original Source: Beautiful Jim Key's Owner, William Key, Passes Away - October 18, 1909

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