Sometimes it’s hard to separate myth from mundane. And sometimes the two become so intertwined that the “facts” are almost impossible to discern. Perhaps it’s that the human mind needs the fantasy of something out of the ordinary, something unusual. This need drives many a myth to become part of popular culture: the Loch Ness Monster, Sasquatch and, out west, the legend of the Jackalope.
If you’re looking for the more mundane origins of the Jackalope, there’s the story of Douglas and Ralph Herrick, two Wyoming hunters who came back from a successful hunting trip and ended up creating a legend. In their tale, they put a rabbit they’d killed next to a set of antlers. When they saw the combination, they decided to mount the animal with the horns and the story of the Jackalope was born. Over the years the brothers would create many more of these creatures for sale, spreading the tale far and wide.
There’s another side to the legend, however, and it’s found in an interesting discovery of an eastern cottontail rabbit with stub-like horns on its face that’s part of the collection of the Smithsonian. The “horns” are said to be the result of a virus which causes tumors to grow on the bodies of rabbits and hares. The virus, which is related to HPV in humans, was discovered in the 1930s. But descriptions of “horned” rabbits can be found in texts dating from medieval and Renaissance times.
So, the legend of the Jackalope could be easily explained or hard to fathom. It depends on whether your interest lies in a good story or an intriguing possibility. Either way, the Jackalope is part of our culture now, and it’s here to stay.