The legend of the Jackalope, or variations of it, can be found all over the United States, but it is familiarly found hopping about in the lore and legends of the west. Here we know it as a critter of cryptozoological whimsical-lore that is often described as an average sized hare or jackrabbit, but with antlers. It is found on postcards, in taxidermy form in random cafes, and as a novelty in bars and tourist traps.
Jackalopes are a kind of mascot for the American west. It is generally believed that Douglas Herrick came up with the story of the jackalope with an accidental placement of antlers that eventually formed the first taxidermied jackalope. He began selling the critters and the rest is hypothetical-history.
I have stumbled upon a few different accounts of horned rabbits. In fact, the western Jackalope is not the first horned bunny in history. There are medieval Arabic texts that talk about a fearsome critter known as the “Al-mi’raj”, which is/was supposed to live on an island called “Jazīrat al-Tinnīn.” The “Al-mi’raj” also fits nicely into unicorn lore as it only has one horn. Other horned hares have been described as far back as the 16th Century.
Closer to home, in 2005 I met an elderly gentleman from Hyrum while I was attending a Sasquatch symposium in Pocatello. While we chatted, he nonchalantly told me that his grandfather used to “hunt” jackalope and kept several “stuffed jackalope” in “the shack out back.”
The gentleman, whom I’ll call Frank, quickly pulled out his wallet that contained a folded photo of himself, probably around the age of ten, with his grandfather, who was holding a poorly manufactured jackalope. The gentleman was very proud of his grandfather’s kills and seemed to genuinely believe that his grandfather had successfully hunted several jackalopes. His enthusiasm was very convincing.
As some of you readers already know from previous articles, I grew up on a haunted racehorse farm in Vineyard Utah. It was a magical place for sure. This farm bordered a swamp. It was there where I spent much of my youth romping about the marsh with my five loyal mutts: Long Nose, Cow, Scaredie, Pee Wee, and Freeway. The Southwest section of the swamp was mostly cattails. At the end of summer, the cattails would bend and tangle together. Sometimes they would create tunnels where my dogs would enter and play. From time to time, I’d find tunnels large enough for myself to enter and explore. I even got trapped in one of them once, and Long Nose had to come and rescue me, showing me the way out.
One evening in late July of 1988, I found myself playing around one of the elevated areas near the swamp. This elevation gave me a good view overlooking the swamp and the surrounding areas. I was skipping about, hitting the dried cattails and watching the wind scatter their fluff about when I saw Long Nose (an athletic black dog with a white spot on his chest), and Cow (a fat white dog with orange floppy ears) running after something with intense interest. I looked ahead to get a look at what they were after, and saw a set of antlers poking up from the ground. Before my dogs could reach the antlers, they disappeared along with my dogs. I wondered what it was, but I didn’t give it much thought.
The next day I was back there romping about when I saw the antlers again, this time in a different place, but my dogs were nowhere to be seen. This time I had a chance of getting a closer look at the critter, and the jackalope hypothesis crossed my mind, but before I could reach it, Pee Wee (a spazzy black and white dog) rushed past me and grabbed it. Instead of running off with it, he brought it back to me. It wasn’t a jackalope at all, but the still fresh upper skull and antlers of a mule-deer. Admittedly I was pretty disappointed that I didn’t have a live jackalope on my farm. Pee Wee proudly delivered me his prize and ran off.
This brings up a different mystery, though. Too often, while playing on the farm, I would come across relatively fresh carcasses and the severed limbs of deer. I could never figure out where these were coming from. I’d find them at all times of the year, more frequently than you’d expect, so where were they coming from? Were my dogs killing deer that lived on or near my farm? Were they stealing from hunters? Or was there something else going on? I guess I’ll never know.
Danny B. Stewart is a Utah-based folklorist and tradition bearer who has spent his life collecting stories of Utah’s uncanny and spooky side.
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