Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The Beautiful Jim Key


Many of you may be aware that I love animals. And if you are friends with me on social media, you probably know that horses are at the top of that list. They are such smart animals and can truly be quite loving. Mine are smart enough to know what time I feed them, what a lead rope means, and my miniature donkey knows if he cries at me I'll go get him a treat.

So when I read the story about The Beautiful Jim Key, I was fascinated. William Key was an ex-slave whose previous owner had seen the man's ability to understand and care for animals at a young age and nurtured that gift. William became a self-taught veterinarian and a respected horseman and trainer. Once a free man, selling liniments was one of the ways he made a living. He decided to try his hand at race horses and had a deal fall into his hands that he couldn't pass up. He was given the chance to purchase a (famous) former circus horse that had been abused and neglected but that was in foal by a top Hambletonian horse named Tennessee Volunteer. 


William nursed the mare back to health and began taking her traveling with him to sell his liniment. He claimed that it healed the horse from its prior sickly status. The foal was born in 1889 and he was a weak and sickly colt. The little guy had trouble standing and fell down frequently, so William named him Jim after the town drunk. The sickly colt wasn't likely to ever be of racehorse ilk. But William, loving horses, took a liking to the little guy. Like Jim's mother, William nursed Jim back to health as well. He grew so attached to the horse and the horse to him that he slept outside with Jim and even built an addition on to his house for the animal. The mare, Lauretta, died but the colt was so attached to William by this time he wasn't terribly troubled by it.

William's wife was the one who noticed Jim's intelligence. She realized he could answer questions requiring a yes or no answer when she asked him if he wanted a piece of apple and he nodded his head. If asked if he wanted to sleep outside in the cold he would shake his head no. When William realized how intelligent Jim was, he started teaching him in mathematics, bible, politics, and the ABC's of spelling.

By Official Photographic Company - Missouri History MuseumURL:, Public Domain,

Now William took Jim with him to sell his Keystone Liniment to the public. He began to do shows and small local fairs, showing off all that Jim had learned and the crowds loved him. But William wanted something bigger. He wanted to be in the Tennessee Centennial Exposition of 1897 so he and Jim went before the officials who chose the acts. And the two were chosen to preform as a side act in the  Negro Building of the Expo.

Jim wowed the crowd with his ability to pick out the correct politician to his question, as well as spell words and names, put mail into slots, write, make change with cash, and do math. Even President Mckinley was impressed by the horse. Thousands came through to see this horse who seemed to be smarter than the average horse. The Beautiful Jim Key and William would go on to preform in the 1904 St. Louis Fair where they became the hit of the Exposition. 

Jim developed arthritis in his late teens and William, now in his 70's was slowing down as well. William died in 1909 and three years later, in 1912, The Beautiful Jim Key passed away as well. 

Such an extraordinary horse. But William was said to be a horse whisperer and his training methods quite profound. Having two Arabian horses of our own, I know the intelligence of these animals. They have memories that are quite impressive. When I watch the performances of dressage and I see the length of the 'dance' these horses must preform, I realize that there may be a lot more Beautiful Jim Keys out there.

Deirdre Mackenzie has spent her life hiding from her father and hating the English. However, when she is caught stealing from an English laird, his unexpected kindness begins to melt away her hatred and strums lonely heartstrings longing for love. Bryce Warwick discovers the “boy” caught with his livestock is actually a young woman. After several attempts to lure the truth from her, he determines she is as deceitful as his late fiancée who nearly cost him his life. But the woman is the least of his worries with the turbulence brought on by threats of another border war and by King Richard's distrust of the nobles.

With old wounds in need of healing and adversaries who would ruin their chances at true love, both must learn to trust in a way they never knew possible.

The stakes are high, secrets prevail, and treason is just a kiss away.

Debbie Lynne Costello is the author of Sword of Forgiveness, Amazon's #1 seller for Historical Christian Romance. She has enjoyed writing stories since she was eight years old. She raised her family and then embarked on her own career of writing the stories that had been begging to be told. She and her husband have four children and live in upstate South Carolina with their 4 horses, 3 dogs, a miniature donkey, and 6 1/2 pekin ducks.


  1. Wow, Debbie, the Beautiful Jim Key is amazing. Thank you for your post.

    1. He really was! And the time that William put into this horse must have been tremendous. I wish I could have met both of them!

  2. Thanks for posting! That horse sounds amazing! I'd love to have a horse as a best friend. I've always been fascinated by them, and a tiny bit scared too.

    1. He was such an amazing horse. Horses do make great friends. I love my boys. Yesterday I spent part of my morning working with my Tennessee Walker. Getting ready for some fall rides. A horse needs to respect a person but the person has to respect the horse as well. That's 1200 pounds of solid muscle! But a well trained horse is usually a gentle beast.