Imagine being in a car for what feels like a lifetime. As a kid, it feels like a lifetime to drive anywhere in Wyoming. The trip to school itself can take 30 minutes depending on the livestock that may or may not be in the road on the way into town. And there’s so much nothing to see. A large expanse of sagebrush. A few dead ones roll by as if anything could be more cliche at that exact moment.
Suddenly you see movement on the prairie. What could it be? Your little eyes strain to see in the bright sunlight, and maybe you spot what you think are antlers? This must be it, you think to yourself, this is the day I finally see a jackalope.
But you’re sorely mistaken this time, a regular pronghorn antelope lifts its head from the sagebrush and goes bounding off into the unknown; the vastness of which is hard to even comprehend at your age.
I’m a lot older now than I was when I would watch diligently for the jackalope to make it’s appearance on the plains as we drove between my house and my grandma’s house all the way in South Dakota. Nowadays, I know those expanses I gazed at as a kid were the Thunder Basin National Grasslands and there are over half a million acres of it just
What kind of things could be out there that only the local hunters and oil righands really know about? What kind of secrets hideout on the prairie?
Today, we’re going to dive into the tale of the Jackalope. How did it get it’s name? Where is it best to find them in season? Remember you can only get a hunting license for this ellusive creature at the visitors center in Douglas, Wyoming.
And on that note, let’s chat about Douglas` for a few minutes. The town itself was idyllic growing up.
Douglas is nestled on the Platte River in a very advantageous position– in fact the Fort Fetterman historic site is only a few miles east of Douglas and is open in the summer for visitors. Depending on your route, you might have gone there before Fort Laramie on the Oregon Trail. The area surrounding Douglas is beautiful. Prairie to the north with mountains to the south and the largest river in the state peacefully flowing straight through town.
Douglas isn’t always a sleepy little town in Converse country, though. It gets very rowdy and rough when the Wyoming State Fair comes through, complete with its rodeo. This year it falls in the middle of August and will bring people from all over the Cowboy State. My mom had a tradition for a few years of singing the national anthem before the state rodeo. Sometimes, she was the one riding the horse with the american flag waving behind her. It’s actually a really striking sight before a night of watching death-defying rodeo runs. Or mud bogging– my dad actually has a few trophies from his mud bogging days.
So it’s pretty obvious— I grew up in Douglas, it’s where I started elementary school. I have vivid memories of floating the Platte River and boating at Glendo reservoir. I remember the water park on the hill and the “haunted house” that was within walking distance of it. I remember getting donut holes at Hometown Bakery downtown. (it was a weekly tradition for years because my mother was acquainted with the owners of the bakery. She told me stories of staying the night with her friend there and getting up at dawn to start making donuts.)
Kind of broke my heart not to see that bakery last time I was in town.
I’m getting off topic. We’re talking about Jacklope, not donut holes.
Douglas proclaims itself loudly to be the Jackalope City, with a sign as you enter town and the jackalope visage on every corner. There’s a giant jackalope in the aptly named Jackalope Square that held the distinction of being the world’s largest jackalope sculpture until a local resident put up a 13 foot one on a nearby hill.
The Jackalope has been a legend on the prairie for over a hundred years, as the first mention of the animal comes from trappers in the 1830s as they explored what was then called the Louisiana territory of unmapped land. Even Louis and Clark were quoted as saying “the indigenous horned rabbit makes a great stew.”
Hundreds of years before Sacajwea lead those lost white dudes through the northern part of what would one day be Montana, the horned rabbit was a fable told by English monks as they illuminated manuscripts in servitude of their diocese. There’s even a folk tale about a woman birthing rabbits, some of which may have had horns.
It’s worth noting that there is a “real” jackalope that’s not very pretty. If rabbits catch a certain kind of papillomaviruses, the growth of the virus could be mistaken for horns. Excuse me while I go vomit, but in the meantime, let’s hear a quick word from our sponsor.
So- It was 1933 when two brothers in Douglas would make history. From their humble taxidermied shop, the first taxidermied specimen; a jackrabbit and deer’s antlers all rolled into one. Douglas Herrick and his brother said the specimen appeared to them on the floor of their shop when a pile of mounts fell to the ground. The very first jackalope, created in Douglas, Wyoming.
And it’s not like it took long for the jackalope to take hold of the Wyoming imagination. The very act of taxidermying this prairie creature drives a steady price, averaging around $150 for a mounted jackalope. That’s right, you can buy a jackalope right now and put it on your wall if you have the wild hair and extra cash to do it.
But you cannot buy the “original” jackalope mount– the reason why surprised me in my research.
So get this. It’s 1977. Sounds of conway twitty and loretta lynn are jamming softly in the background on a scratchy radio and a group of men roll into the town of Douglas in their loud 70s ford truck. There’s a faint smell of disco in the air. Trust me that’s a scent.
These guys in the truck hop out, one or two of them rocking a mullet with a mustache in full wyoming 70’s chic. A full heist of 70s characters occurred, and the end result was the first jackalope mount being lost to history, or shoved in the closet of some disco heisting wyomingite.
Okay actually I have no idea how the jackalope was stolen, all I know is that it was and I really need the pioneer museum in douglas to email me back because it’s burning a hole in my head knowing that the jackalope was just “stolen” in 1977. I need more details, please, sharon.
Phew… back on topic.
These brothers made the first jackalope mount and then it was stolen in what definitely was NOT a disco heist…..
Where does that leave the noble roamer of the plains? What’s the impact of the Jackalope on the state of Wyoming. That’s a big question but I can’t help but feel that the jackalope, which, by the way, are only legal to hunt in the state on wyoming on June 31st, represents a core part of the personality of the cowboy state.
There’s something very tongue-in-cheek about the whole legend of the Jackalope- There’s some fun in being in on the joke, being playful about the existence of a horned rabbit kind of lets you know the character of a state. This is a state that would take you snipe hunting, but buy you a beer to make it better after. The state that would keep a nearly decade-long joke going well into the era of smartphones.
Jackalopes are even easier to spot now. You see sculptures of them in downtown Douglas– Jackalope stickers and mounts all over the very proud Jackalope City– You’ll even find mounts and sculptures as far north as Wall, South Dakota. If you’re in the area, stop by the visitor’s center and pick up the ONLY official jackalope hunting license you can get in the state of Wyoming.
The jackalope can be seen as the mascot for WyoLotto, nowadays– for those listening outside the state, the state now has a lottery— Wyolotto’s logo is the cutest yellow jackalope, reaching for a star. How inspiring is that?? I’ve yet to win a single dollar in the lotto though- I guess that’s kind of the point.
Even more exciting, it has previously been brought up in the Wyoming State Legislature to officially name the Jackalope as the legendary critter of Wyoming. In 2005, the effort previously made it through the Wyoming State House but wasn’t voted on in time in the senate. It was brought up again in 2011 and 2013, but remains unpassed.
I think it would be realllllly cool to get this bill passed, especially since it’s originator, Dave Edwards, passed away in 2013. One of the co-sponsors if the 2015 bill said he would keep reintroducing it until it passes.
It hasn’t passed yet and we weren’t able to find a bill on the docket for this upcoming legislature session. so— Maybe let’s try to get the ball running. Send an email to your local legislator and tell them how important it is to their constituents that this silly jackalope bill is passed in honor of its late originator.