Douglas, Wyo., (pop. 5,288), proclaims its pride as “One of the Best 100 Small Towns in America” with banners flying from the lightposts in grassy medians. A bronze statute of a modern-day cowboy astride a horse graces the entrance to the state fairgrounds and a historic train depot houses the chamber of commerce.
But it’s the town plaza’s centerpiece that is impossible to miss: an 8-foot statue of a rabbit with antlers—otherwise known as a jackalope.
Welcome to Douglas, the Jackalope Capital of the World.
“The jackalope is a combination of an antelope and a jackrabbit,” explains jeweler Stan Mullinnix, a local authority on the animal. “This is where the largest population of antelope and jackrabbits live, so it is appropriately named the home of the jackalope.”
The city of Douglas actually owns the trademark to the mythical creature. Jackalope images decorate its park benches, website, billboards, and fire trucks. Walls of stuffed jackalopes await customers in local businesses, and Douglas’ Jackalope Days festival has been an annual event for about 20 years. The chamber of commerce distributes tiny jackalope pins and jackalope hunting licenses like candy.
There is no limit on jackalopes, but hunting them can be dangerous, says Mullinnix, who relates tall tales about the animals with all the solemnity of an accountant at tax time.
“They are not just little bunnies. They are meat eaters,” he says with a straight face. “Remember the killer rabbits in the movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail? Those were juvenile jackalopes.”
“The ranchers, during (jackalope) mating season, have to keep their bulls corralled or they will take on and kill bulls. Those horns are not just decorations,” he adds.
In reality, the horns are deer antlers attached to stuffed jackrabbits.
Doug Herrick is credited with “discovering” the jackalope in 1939, and his nephew, Jim Herrick, continues the family tradition of preserving and promoting jackalopes. Herrick’s Big Horn Taxidermy sells about 2,500 jackalopes a year to stores in Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, and South Dakota.
Some people think the animals are real, Mayor Kenny Taylor laughs.
“You can have some fun with them,” he says. “I tell them you can only hunt them on the 30th of February.”
While the jackalope is the ranching community’s most memorable distinction, the central Wyoming town is also home to the state fairgrounds, the Wyoming Pioneer Museum, and the Wyoming State Law Enforcement Academy. Author Norman Crampton rated Douglas the 72nd best small town in his book The 100 Best Small Towns in America.
But the jackalope is central to this town’s identity.
“Anytime we are asked as a community to take a door prize, we take a jackalope head with us,” City Administrator Bobbe Fitzhugh says. “It’s part of our city logo, letterhead, part of who we are.”
Several years ago, Douglas businessmen on a trade mission to Japan found themselves trying to explain their gift for the mayor of Osaka to customs officials, who suspected the jackalope was an endangered species.
During a trip to Washington, D.C., Taylor told a waiter about the jackalope and gave him one of the town’s trademark pins.
“A year later, I went back to D.C. to the same restaurant, and the waiter walked by,” he says. “I said, ‘Remember me? I’m from Wyoming.’ The guy said, ‘Oh, yeah, the jackalope!’”
The jackalope’s fame has gone beyond the West.
“I get about five e-mails a week from people wanting a license or pins,” says Janet Redfield, executive director of the Douglas Chamber of Commerce. “People call from back East and say, ‘When is Jackalope Days? We’re planning our vacation.’’’
Residents have a stock of mighty convincing jackalope tales to share, too.
“I tell them anytime somebody will let me bend their ear,” Mullinnix says with a grin. “To visitors, mostly.”