Jackalope in a restaurant near Death Valley
The jackalope is a mythical animal of North American folklore (a so-called "fearsome critter") described as a jackrabbit with antelope horns or deer antlers and sometimes a pheasant's tail. The word "jackalope" is a portmanteau of "jackrabbit" and "antelope".
The story of the jackalope was popularized in Wyoming in the 1930s after a local hunter used taxidermy skills to graft deer antlers onto a jackrabbit carcass, selling the creature to a local hotel. It is possible that the tales of jackalopes were inspired by sightings of rabbits infected with the Shope papilloma virus, which causes the growth of horn- and antler-like tumors in various places on the rabbit's head and body. The concept of an animal hybrid, such as the griffin or the chimera, occurs in many cultures. Horned hares were described in medieval and early Renaissance texts.
The jackalope is subject to many outlandish and largely tongue-in-cheek claims as to its habits. Given the pseudo-taxonomic descriptor Lepus temperamentalus, it is said to be a hybrid of the pygmy-deer and a species of "killer rabbit". Reportedly, jackalopes are extremely shy unless approached, and, if approached, they are dangerous. Legend also has it that female jackalopes can be milked—as they sleep belly up—and that the milk can be used for a variety of medicinal purposes. One of the few ways a jackalope can be caught is by leaving out a bottle of whiskey, as it is the jackalope's sustenance of choice. It has also been said that the jackalope can convincingly imitate any sound, including the human voice. It uses this ability to elude pursuers, chiefly by using phrases such as "There he goes! That way!" During days of the Old West, when cowboys gathered by the campfires singing at night, jackalopes could often be heard mimicking their voices. It has also been said that jackalopes will only breed during winter electrical storms, explaining their rarity.
The New York Times attributes the story's origin to a 1932 hunting outing involving Douglas Herrick (1920–2003) of Douglas, Wyoming. Herrick and his brother had studied taxidermy by mail order as teenagers, and when the brothers returned from a hunting trip for jackrabbits, Herrick tossed a carcass into the taxidermy store, where it came to rest beside a pair of deer antlers. The accidental combination of animal forms sparked Herrick's idea for a jackalope. The first jackalope the brothers put together was sold for $10 to Roy Ball, who displayed it in Douglas' La Bonte Hotel. The mounted head was stolen in 1977. The jackalope became a popular local story, and Douglas Chamber of Commerce has issued thousands of Jackalope Hunting Licenses to tourists. The tags are good for hunting only during official jackalope season, which occurs for only one day: June 31 (a nonexistent date as June has 30 days), from midnight to 2 a.m. The hunter may not have an IQ greater than 72. In Herrick's home town of Douglas, there is an 8-foot (2.4 m) statue of a jackalope, and the town hosts an annual Jackalope Days Celebration in early June.
Mythological references to a horned rabbit creature can be found in Huichol legends. The Huichol oral tradition has passed down tales of the sharing of horns between the deer and the horned rabbit. The rabbit and deer have also been paired up as far back as the Mesoamerican period of the Aztecs as twins, brothers, even the sun and moon.
References to horned rabbits may originate in sightings of rabbits affected by Shope papilloma virus, named for Richard E. Shope, M.D., who described it in a scientific journal in 1933. Shope initially examined wild cottontail rabbits that had been shot by hunters in Iowa and later examined wild rabbits from Kansas. They had "numerous horn-like protuberances on the skin over various parts of their bodies. The animals were referred to popularly as 'horned' or 'warty' rabbits." Other papilloma viral infections had been noted in the Western United States and Mexico from the 1880s through the 1930s.
Stories about similar hybrid rabbits exist in alpine and Scandinavian regions of Europe. Such creatures include the Wolpertinger (Bayern, Germany), the Blutschink (Tirol, Austria), the Dahu (Switzerland, France), the Dilldapp (some specific regions), the Elwetritsch (Pfalz, Germany), the Hanghuhn (Thüringen, Germany), the Raurakl (Schwarzau im Gebirge, Austria), the Rasselbock (Thüringen and Sachsen, Germany) and the Skvader (Medelpad in northern Sweden).
In 2005, the state legislature of Wyoming considered a bill to make the jackalope the state's official mythological creature. It passed the house by a 45–12 margin, but the session ended before the senate could take up the bill, and so it died. In 2013, following the death of the bill's sponsor, Dave Edwards, the state legislature reintroduced the bill. It again passed the House but died in the rules committee of the Senate. In 2015, three state representatives have put forth the jackalope proposal again, this time as House Bill 66.
In 2014, the Wyoming Lottery adopted a jackalope logo for its lottery tickets and marketing materials. Lottery officials chose the fictitious animal, which they named YoLo, over the bucking horse and other state symbols.
In popular culture
Since Herrick and his brother began selling manipulated taxidermy heads in the 1930s, such trophies—as well as jackalope postcards and related gift-shop items—can be found in many places beyond Douglas. The student magazine of the Santa Fe University of Art and Design in New Mexico is called The Jackalope. On the other side of the world, The Hop Factory craft beer cafe in Newcastle, Australia, uses a leaping jackalope as its logo. In 1986, James Abdnor, a senator from South Dakota, gave U.S. President Ronald Reagan a stuffed jackalope (rabbit head with antlers) during a presidential campaign stop in Rapid City.
Many books, including a large number written for children, feature the jackalope. A search for "jackalope" in the WorldCat listings of early 2015 produced 225 hits, including 57 for books. Among them is Juan and the Jackalope: A Children's Book in Verse by Rudolfo Anaya. The WorldCat summary of Anaya's book says: "Competing for the hand of the lovely Rosita and her rhubarb pie, Juan rides a Jackalope in a race against Pecos Bill."
Musicians have used the jackalope in various ways. R. Carlos Nakai, a Native American flute player, formerly belonged to a group called Jackalope. In the late 1980s, it performed what Nakai called "synthacousticpunkarachiNavajazz", which combined "improvisation, visual art, storytelling, dance and dramatic theatrical effects." Nakai said he wanted people to dream as they listened to the music. Jakalope is a Canadian alternative pop/rock group formed in 2003 by industrial musician and producer Dave "Rave" Ogilvie. The band Miike Snow uses the jackalope as its logo. Band member Andrew Wyatt said during an interview in 2012 that the logo was meant to signify experiment and adventure. Of the 225 Worldcat hits resulting from a search for "jackalope", 95 were related to music.
Jackalopes have appeared in movies and on television. A jackalope named "Jack Ching Bada Bing" was a recurring character in a series of sketches on the television show America's Funniest People. The show's host, Dave Coulier, voiced the rascally hybrid. In 2003, Pixar featured a jackalope in the short animation Boundin'. The jackalope gave helpful advice to a lamb who was feeling sad after being shorn. In the animated television series Gravity Falls, jackalopes occasionally appear in the opening sequence and photos.
Jackalopes have appeared in video games. In Red Dead Redemption, the player is able to hunt and skin jackalopes. In Redneck Rampage, jackalopes, including one the size of a bus, are enemies. Jackalopes are part of the action in Guild Wars 2.
Beginning in 1997, the Central Hockey League included a team called the Odessa Jackalopes. The team joined the South Division of the North American Hockey League before the 2011–12 season.
Folklorist John A. Gutowski sees in the Douglas jackalope an example of an American tall tale publicized by a local community that seeks wider recognition. Through a combination of hoax and media activity, the town or other community draws attention to itself for social or economic reasons. A common adjunct to this activity involves the creation of an annual festival to perpetuate the town's association with the local legend.
Gutowski finds evidence of what he calls the "protofestival" pattern throughout the United States. In addition to the jackalope, his examples include the sea serpent of Nantucket, which in 1937 led to "stories of armadas hunting the monster, and footprint discoveries by local businessmen", accompanied by wide publicity. In similar fashion, Newport, Arkansas, publicized its White River Monster, and Algiers, Louisiana, claimed to be home to a flying Devil Man. Ware, Massachusetts, drew media attention to its local reputation for alligator sightings. Perry, New York, held Silver Lake Sea Serpent Festivals based on a local hoax. The Hodag Festival in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, celebrates "discovery" of a prehistoric creature in a nearby pit. Willow Creek, California, hosts an annual Bigfoot Festival. Since 1950, Churubusco, Indiana, has celebrated Turtle Days, based on a story, part real and part invented, about the hunt for the Beast of Busco, a 500-pound (230 kg) snapping turtle said to be living in a nearby lake.
Common to these tales, Gutowski says, is the recurring motif of the quest for the mythical animal, often a monster. The same motif, he notes, appears in American novels such as Moby Dick and Old Man and the Sea and in monster movies such as King Kong and Jaws and in world literature such as Beowulf. The monster motif also appears in tales of contemporary places outside the United States, such as Scotland, with its Loch Ness Monster. What is not global, Gutowski says, is the embrace of local monster tales by American communities that put them to use through "public relations hoaxes, boisterous boosterism, and [a] carnival atmosphere... ".
Folklorist Richard M. Dorson also cites the "booster impulse, mingled with entrepreneurial hoaxing" as the way that Douglas with its jackalope, Churubusco with its giant turtle, and other towns with their own local legends rise above anonymity. He traces the impulse and the methods to the promotional literature of colonial times that depicted North America as an earthly paradise. Much later, in the 19th century, settlers transferred that optimistic vision to the American West, where it culminated in "boosterism". Although other capitalist countries advertise their products, Dorson says, "...the intensity of the American ethos in advertising, huckstering, attention-getting, media-manipulating to sell a product, a personality, a town is beyond compare."
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