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Roaming Wyoming: The Elusive Jackalope

By Peggy Jordan
Associate Editor, FMC magazine

Douglas, Wyoming,  is the official home of the jackalope, and celebrates its heritage during the annual Jackalope Railroad Days.If you keep your imagination active as you travel to Gillette, Wyoming, for FMCA's 88th Family Reunion & Motorhome Showcase, you may see an elusive jackalope out on the Western plains. If you're lucky, you'll get a photo of this rare creature as proof of the encounter.

But, if not, just stop at any tourist gift shop in Wyoming or nearby states. You'll likely be able to get a souvenir jackalope T-shirt, postcard, figurine, or even a stuffed and mounted trophy-sized version of the critter.

As the story goes, in 1939, a taxidermist named Douglas Herrick, along with his brother, Ralph, created the first jackalope ever in Douglas, Wyoming, by putting deer antlers on a mounted hare. Soon jackalope trophies were selling as fast as they could make them. Today the town of Douglas is the official home of the jackalope, and celebrates its heritage during the annual Jackalope Railroad Days; plus, the town square sports a giant statue of the beast.

Once jackalopes' mystical ability to create wealth was known, it didn't take long for other purveyors of trinkets to join the herd. In nearby South Dakota, besides selling related merchandise, Wall Drug offers a jackalope hunting permit. It sets the season as June 1 to October 31, but only between the hours of midnight and 3 a.m. on the three nights before a full moon. Slingshots and tranquilizing pellets are the only means of bagging permitted.

Some confusion about the hunting rules definitely needs to be sorted out. The hunting license put out by the Douglas Chamber of Commerce clearly states the beasts can be stalked only one day each year: June 31.

The hunting license put out by the Douglas Chamber of Commerce clearly states the beasts can be stalked only one day each year: June 31.If you believe the tall tales, jackalopes actually existed long before the taxidermists in Douglas put antlers on a rabbit. Before the West was won, the critters are said to have been much larger, and capable of running faster than 90 mph. Jackalopes, they say, can mimic the human voice, and are so musically talented that they harmonize with cowboys on the range. And when threatened, jackalopes fiercely defend their territory.

It turns out there is truth behind the myth. Horned hares can be seen in drawings in scholarly nature books made in Europe as long ago as the 16th century. What's more, modern science has confirmed that rabbits that appear to have horns do exist, albeit the cause for the growth on the bunny's noggins is (of all things) a virus, and nothing more.

That all may be true, but most Americans are glad to believe in the fierce, fast, and fascinating jackalope … judging by the T-shirt sales alone!

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For more Wyoming stories and travel suggestions as you travel to Gillette for FMCA's 50th anniversary Family Reunion & Motorhome Showcase, visit www.wyomingtourism.org or call (877) 813 8071.

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