Tales of mythical jackrabbits with antelope antlers began to spread from Wyoming in the 1940’s. Where did they come from? Today we explore the legendary jackalope hoax.
Mythological horned hares have been depicted for centuries. In the case of the modern creature referred to as a “jackalope,” we find its origins in 20th century America. Sometime between 1932 and 1940, teenage brothers Douglas and Ralph Harrick dreamed up the jackalope due to a fortuitous coincidence. Interested in mail order taxidermy, the two were hurriedly heading home after a successful jack rabbit hunt when one of the remains was serendipitously flung and landed next to a pair of deer antlers on the floor of their Douglas, Wyoming taxidermy shop. “We just throwed the dead jack rabbit in the shop when we come in and it slid on the floor right up against a pair of deer horns we had in there… It looked like that rabbit had horns on it,” recalled Ralph Herrick. The brothers mounted their creation and sold it to local Bonte Hotel owner Roy Ball for $10 where it was displayed within his hotel until it was pilfered in 1977.
Spread of the Jackalope Mythos
Since that first sell, Ralph Harrick began selling tens of thousands of mounted jackalopes, and the legend slowly circulated out from Douglas, Wyoming. The state of Wyoming trademarked the jackalope name in 1965, and the city of Douglas has become the focal point of jackalope tourism. In fact, the city purportedly issues thousands of jackalope hunting licenses every year to tourists undeterred by guidelines that the beast can only be hunted from midnight to 2:00 am on July 31st, and hunters must take a test proving their IQ is between 50-72.
Wyoming Jackalope Legislation
In 2005, statesmen Dave Edwards sponsored a Wyoming House of Representatives bill in attempts to have the jackalope declared the state’s official mythical creature. According to an article in the Wyoming Star Tribune, Edwards felt crushed when the bill did not pass. In January of 2013, Edwards died at the age of 75 due to a stroke and complications from Alzheimer’s disease. To honor Edwards, members of the Wyoming Legislature rejuvenated the bill several days after his passing. The 2013 version of the bill, which states that the jackalope, “despite its name, appears as a jackrabbit with deer antlers throughout Wyoming at gift shops, sporting events, social clubs, watering holes and on post cards”, also did not pass.
There is a condition in which diseased rabbits can have horn-like growths on their heads. This page from Professor Chuck Holliday shows rabbits infected with the Shope papillomavirus which appear to have “horns” growing from their heads. It is possible that some early “jackalope” sightings prior to the hoax created by the Herrick brothers were of diseased rabbits.
Douglas Herrick, co-creator of the jackalope and brother to Ralph Herrick, died in 2003 at the age of 82 due to lung and bone cancer.
Is there any truth to the legend of the jackalope? Give us your thoughts in the comments below.
Updated August 30, 2015
Originally published May 2014