Origins of the Jackalope

Douglas Herrick, creator of the "jackalope" — that curious critter with a jack rabbit's body and an antelope's antlers that could turn downright vicious when threatened yet sing a gentle tenor along with the best of the campfire cowboys —died Jan. 3, 2003 in Casper, Wyo. He was 82.

In the 1930s, the Herrick brothers — Douglas and Ralph, who studied taxidermy by mail order as teenagers — went hunting. Returning home, they tossed a rabbit into the taxidermy shop.

The carcass slid right up to a pair of deer antlers, and Douglas Herrick's eyes suddenly lighted up.

"Let's mount it the way it is!" he said, and a legend was born — or at least given form.

Jackalopes, thanks to the Herrick brothers, have taken their place in modern mythology right alongside Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster.

As "proof" of the jackalope's presence now and in the past, they cite:

A 16th-century painting of a horned rabbit
(although scientists suspect the deformity was caused by a virus)

A mention by Buddha of a horned rabbit
(without adding that he doubted any existed)

First sighting by a trapper of a jackalope in Wyoming in 1829
(who can say?)

Fact or fiction, legend or lark, the jackalope the Herricks stuffed and mounted gave their native Douglas, Wyo., a reason to be.

Before discovery of uranium, coal, oil and natural gas doubled the town's population to about 7,500 in the mid-1970s, Douglas specialized in selling jackalope souvenirs. The Herricks fed the increasing demand for the stuffed and mounted trophies. Tens of thousands have been sold.

That first jackalope was sold for $10 to Roy Ball, who installed it proudly in the town's Bonte Hotel. The mounted horned rabbit head was stolen in 1977.

The town of Douglas erected an 8-foot-tall statue of the jackalope. Proud city fathers later added a 13-foot-tall jackalope cutout on a hillside and placed jackalope images on park benches and firetrucks, among other things.

Acknowledging the animal's purported propensity to attack ferociously anything that threatened it, the city also posted warning signs: "Watch out for the jackalope."

The Douglas Chamber of Commerce has issued thousands of jackalope hunting licenses, despite rules specifying that the hunter cannot have an IQ higher than 72 and can hunt only between midnight and 2 a.m. each June 31.

Tourist-shop clerks in Douglas told and retold tales of cowboys who remembered harmonious jackalopes joining their nightly campfire songs. Visitors rarely have left Douglas without buying jackalope postcards and trinkets.

The state of Wyoming trademarked the jackalope name in 1965. Twenty years later, Gov. Ed Herschler, crediting Douglas Herrick with the animal's creation, designated Wyoming the jackalope's official stamping grounds.

Mr. Herrick made only about 1,000 or so horned rabbit trophies before going on to other things. His brother kept churning out jackalopes.

Mr. Herrick grew up on a ranch near Douglas and served as a tail gunner on a B-17 during World War II. He worked as a taxidermist until 1954, when he became a welder and pipe fitter for Amoco Refinery until his retirement in 1980.

-- Edited from an obituary by Myrna Oliver, Los Angeles Times, January 26, 2003

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

   Postcards courtesy of Arlen Lazaroff collection


Pic' Ax'
Studios Jackalope
Trading Post Comments Home