|By DOUGLAS MARTIN|
Published: January 19, 2003
| Douglas Herrick, who gets both the credit and the blame for perhaps the tackiest totem of the American West, the jackalope -- half bunny, half antelope and 100 percent tourist trap -- died on Jan. 6 in Casper, Wyo. He was 82.|
The cause was bone and lung cancer, his brother, Ralph, said.
Douglas Herrick lived in Casper, but it was in his hometown, Douglas, Wyo., that luck changed his life.
In 1932 (other accounts say 1934, 1939 and 1940, but Ralph Herrick swears it was 1932), the Herrick brothers had returned from hunting. "We just throwed the dead jack rabbit in the shop when we come in and it slid on the floor right up against a pair of deer horns we had in there," Ralph said. "It looked like that rabbit had horns on it."
His brother's eyes brightened with inspiration. "Let's mount that thing!" he said.
That was tens of thousands of jackalopes ago. A jackalope, of course, is a legendary animal with a jack rabbit's body and the antlers of a pronghorn antelope, which resembles a small deer. The last syllable of the name comes from antelope. (Jackadeer? Nah.)
Whether jackalopes ever hopped the earth's surface is rather like the same question about the Loch Ness monster and Bigfoot; it depends on the observer. Believers say that Buddha mentioned a horned rabbit, although they usually neglect to mention that the Enlightened One implied they do not exist.
They also point to a picture of a horned rabbit painted in the 1500's, but scientists suspect its cerebral protuberances were tumors from a rabbit virus. Cowboys have said that while they were singing around the fire, their chorus was joined by a distant jackalope, often in harmony, usually in the tenor line. (Yep.)
Whether truth, fiction or metaphor, the mounted version of the jackalope, many made with deer horn tips, relentlessly proliferated. Many thousands were made by Ralph Herrick and his son Jim. Douglas Herrick was less interested in the family taxidermy shop.
"I don't think my brother ever made more than a thousand, if he done that," Ralph Herrick said. By contrast, Jim Herrick delivers 400 jackalopes to Wall Drug in South Dakota three times a year, a small portion of his total production.
Douglas became the jackalope capital. In 1965, the state of Wyoming trademarked the name, and in 1985 Gov. Ed Herschler pronounced it the animal's official home. Jackalope images adorn everything from park benches to fire trucks.
Jackalope hunting licenses are sold; an applicant must supposedly pass a test to prove he has an I.Q. higher than 50 but not more than 72. Hunting is permitted only on June 31, from midnight to 2 a.m.
Jackalope milk is available at several stores, though its authenticity is questionable; everyone knows how dangerous it is to milk a jackalope.
An oft-repeated legend is that the Herricks' grandfather saw a jackalope in Buffalo, Wyo., in 1920 and told his family about it. Not true, Ralph said.
The first mounted jackalope was sold for $10 (they now go for $35) to Roy Ball, who displayed it in his Bonte Hotel in Douglas. It was stolen.
Others have tried to take the jackalope's peculiar evolution further. A Colorado bar displays a jackapanda, a cross between a jackalope and a panda, while Wall Drug has a flying jackalope, with some partridge feathers glued to its tail.
Douglas Eugene Herrick was born on July 8, 1920, and grew up on a ranch. In World War II, he was a tail gunner on a B-17. He later worked in construction and at an Amoco refinery, in addition to stuffing animals.
Although Governor Herschler specifically mentioned Mr. Herrick in 1985 as the Jackalope's creator, his brother said the town tried to charge him a commission for each jackalope. It relented.
Mr. Herrick's wife, Marjorie, died in 1993. In addition to his brother, who lives in Douglas, he is survived by his daughters, Bonnie French of Casper and Diane Brewer of Casper; his sons, Kelly, of Colorado Springs, Colo., and Michael, of Casper; and seven grandchildren.
Michael Herrick followed his family into the business of taxidermy, but does not mount jackalopes. He prefers larger animals.