Flat Creek Inn

The Legend of the Jackalope

Photo by CGB Grey

Picture this: You’re hiking along a solitary trail at dusk when suddenly, the bushes rustle. A strange creature bounds into the path, the glow of your flashlight gleaming on the white of its antlers. Its eyes shine up at you, full of mischief, and then—as quickly as it appeared—the creature vanishes into the brush, never again to be seen except in your imagination. You’ve just had an encounter with a jackalope, the great antlered rabbit, one of the West’s favorite mythical creatures. (You know, jack from jackrabbit and -alope from antelope. It’s clever wordplay.)

Where did the legend come from?

Horned rabbits have appeared in literature since medieval times, like Historiae Naturalis de Quadrupetibus Libri (The History Book of Natural Quadrupeds) in the seventeenth century and illustrations such as Animalia Qvadrvpedia et Reptilia (Terra): Plate XLVII in the sixteenth century, though such books are unlikely to ever make your summer reading list. German folklore describes a wolpertinger (a hare with the antlers of a deer, the body of a squirrel, and the wings of a pheasant) and a rasselbock (a rabbit with deer antlers).

According to The New York Times, the legend of the North American jackalope originated from a man named Douglas Herrick of Douglas, Wyoming, who probably never had trouble remembering the name of their hometown. He and his brother, both trained taxidermists, stuck deer antlers onto a stuffed rabbit and thought it looked amusing. Since then, Douglas (the town, not the guy) has hosted jackalope “hunts” and an annual Jackalope Days Celebration in early June. 

Stores in Douglas sell so-called jackalope milk, but one of the ways to catch a jackalope, according to the legend, is to offer its favorite beverage: whiskey. Also, be aware that the jackalope can evidently imitate the human voice. In the Old West, cowboys supposedly heard jackalopes singing in the night, usually as tenors. (Because whoever heard of a baritone deer-rabbit hybrid? That’s just silly.)

Could there be any truth to the legend?

As those medieval and Renaissance-era manuscripts prove, the idea of antlered rabbits existed long before Douglas Herrick. Even the mythology of certain indigenous people from Mexico includes references to horned rabbit creatures. So are they real? Who knows? Some scientists think the stories could have comes from sightings of rabbits afflicted with Shope papilloma virus, which causes horn-like tumors that could be mistaken for antlers. Don't Google it unless you want to be unsettled.

Where can I see a jackalope today? 

You can see plenty of jackalopes around the West … stuffed. And on merchandise, too. If you ever find yourself in Douglas, Wyoming, make sure to check out the gift shops, where you’ll find plenty of jackalope-themed apparel and souvenirs. You may see taxidermied jackalopes in the outdoor retail chain Cabelas, supplied by an old Navy veteran who makes a killing selling them. The Wyoming legislature has considered several bills to make the jackalope the official state mythological animal. This motion has cleared the House several times only to be defeated in the Senate, which is apparently devoid of a sense of humor. 

But what about real jackalope? Well, keep looking. Despite the lack of hard evidence, we all hope creatures like the jackalope are real. We hope Bigfoot is more than just a guy in a suit, that there’s really a sea serpent at the bottom of Loch Ness. We’re skeptical of things we don’t see with our own eyes, but deep down we want a bit of magic in the world. We hope there are dragons lurking just off the edge of the map, even if we never get to see them. We hope for mystery outside the bounds of the world we know. In the words of The X-Files’s Agent Mulder, we “want to believe.”

This post was brought to you by Flat Creek Inn.


Ryan Kunz is a copywriter and freelance writer who writes on a variety of topics, including media, the outdoors, and whatever else strikes his fancy. He's never seen a jackalope, but he's pretty sure he saw aliens once.

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