Thursday, September 26, 2019

Civic Pride Through Taxidermy - a Many-Pronged History of Jackalopes

The Morning Call (Allentown, Pennsylvania), January 6, 1942, page 25.

What is it? 

A “jackalope.” 

Indigenous to the wide-open spaces in souvenir shops of the American West, “jackalopes” can also be found as invasive species on tchotchke shelves and man-cave walls worldwide.   

A portmanteau of “jackrabbit” and “antelope,” a jackalope is a stuffed jackrabbit mounted with deer or antelope antlers.  But when this photograph of a gift shipped from Kern County California to Pennsylvania was published in 1942, there was no accepted single word to describe it. 

Despite occasional reports of such animals in the wild in newspapers across the country since at least the 1890s, they were generally referred to simply as “antlered jackrabbits,” “horned jackrabbits,” or similarly bland, descriptive phrases.  Early attempts (1930) to coin a more expressive name, “boop-oop-o-doopdeer” or “whatizzitt,” never quite caught on. 

The earliest accounts of horned or antlered jackrabbits were likely legitimate sightings of actual jackrabbits suffering from wart-like, viral growths, now known as the Shope papilloma virus.  Readers, however, frequently misunderstood the reports, believing them to be a genuine new or unknown species, or dismissed as the drunken hallucinations of hunters on a bender, or outright fabrications.  The absence of photographic or physical evidence and rarity of the condition prolonged the confusion. 

But by the early 1930s, creative taxidermists had taken matters into their own hand, stuffing the void with natural-looking fakes.  While it may be impossible to determine with certainty who made the first one, the Herrick brothers of Douglas, Wyoming generally get credit.  The brothers, they say, made their first one in 1939 (or 1934 or 1932, depending on the source).  But the evidence is thin, sometimes contradictory, and the date hard to pin down. 

Other sources suggest similar fakes were made elsewhere even earlier.  It’s possible that different people, in different places and at different times, independently mounted antlers on jackrabbits to mimic the horned or antlered jackrabbits regularly described in press reports over many decades.  The earliest-known contemporaneous report of an antlered jackrabbit hunting trophy on display was at a ticket office of the Northern Pacific Railroad in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1932.  And reports made decades after the fact suggest they may have existed during the 1920s, and perhaps as early as 1912.   

But it took a Presidential whistle-stop tour through Wyoming in 1950, and a concerted effort of civic self-promotion by the Chamber of Commerce of Douglas, Wyoming to finally give the unforgettable creature an unforgettable name – the “jackalope,” and give it the national attention it deserves.   Later attempts to coin alternate names, “antelabbit” or “sarabideer” (saber-toothed rabbit-deer), did not make any inroads.  “Jackalope” was here to stay. 

Douglas, Wyoming was not the first western town to use fake-taxidermy to promote the town.  Whitefish, Montana did something nearly identical with “fur-bearing fish” in the mid-1920s, right down to a pair of taxidermists who made the first examples.  A widely publicized faux-fish feud between Whitefish and the upstart Salida, Colorado, who later claimed to be the home of the “fur-bearing fish,” kept the fish in the limelight during the 1940s, which would have given Douglas ample opportunity to become familiar with the concept.

And if Douglas, Wyoming was inspired by Whitefish, Montana, Whitefish Montana was likely inspired by nearby Glacier National Park and the Great Northern Railway that brought visitors to the park.  Beginning in 1911, the year after it was established, the park and railway brought attention to the park with tall-tales of fabulous creatures like the “Wimpuss” and fur-bearing “polar trout,” and fantastic geologic features like a subterranean connection between its lakes and the Arctic Ocean, and a “Bourbon Spring,” in the middle of a field of mint, perfect for mint juleps chilled with glacial ice.  Images of the “Wimpuss” were distributed in photo-albums distributed throughout the park, and a fake-taxidermy specimen of a “Wimpuss” hung on the wall of the park’s hotel lobby.

A Natural History of Jackrabbits with Horns

Reports of jackrabbits with horns or antlers first appeared in great numbers in Kansas, Texas and other states of the Great Plains and American Southwest in the 1890s.

Bill Spencer killed two horned jack-rabbits the other day.  One of them had four horns, two on each side of its head.  The other had but one horn which proceeded from near the end of its nose, like the horn of a one-horned rhinoceros.  The horns were of perfect structure and about three inches in length.  We only regret that they could not have been captured alive.

Ness County News (Ness City, Kansas), February 13, 1892, page 4.

Herbert Cook shot the other day in the timber on the Sioux river a cotton-tail rabbit which was a decided curiosity. 

It had antlers like a deer.  The main horns were about an inch long and on each a prong had started, one side being considerably larger than the other.  The antlers were located near the base of the ear.

Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota), January 30, 1900, page 5.

Although not fully understood at the time, many (if not most) of these reports were likely genuine sightings of jackrabbits with horny growths caused by a virus; growths which, if they grow from the top of the head, sometimes look a lot like antlers or horns, although generally more irregular and asymmetrical.  Many of the descriptions are consistent with the viral growths.

Arizona Republic (Phoenix, Arizona), April 27, 1927, page 17.

Although eyewitnesses may have understood that the horny growths were not really like horns or antlers, readers were left to their imagination.  With frequent repetition and recirculation, and generally without photographic support, the reports morphed into something slightly more fantastic, and ultimately unbelievable.  As a result, the familiar reports of “horned” or “antlered” jackrabbits would frequently be dismissed as a joke or as the drunken rambling of hunters off on a bender.

By the time that fourteen-mile-lake in Barton county gets filled with water Kansas will begin to grow sea searpent stories, too.  They will be appreciated.  The horned jackrabbit story is becoming sadly frayed.

Dodge City Globe (Dodge City, Kansas), February 2, 1899, page 2.

A Jackrabbit with five horns has been seen out in Pratt county, Kan.  And Kansas, as everybody knows, is a prohibition state.

Edgerton Journal (Edgerton, Kansas), March 22, 1907, page 2.

“I think I’ll go in for hunting, my dear,” said Mr. Sudden-Wealth.  “I hear there’s excellent rabbit shooting in these parts.”

“Do so by all means.  Hunting is aristocratic.  And some antlers will look well in the front hall.

Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), January 27, 1919, page 6.

In 1930, a hunter’s mistake and perhaps some sloppy editing of the initial report of the event, prompted reports of a rabbit with antlers in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, with calls to hunt it down, stuff it and put it on display.

[D]id you know we had a new kind of animal in the upper peninsula? Hunting it will further complicate the dangers of the deer hunting season.  Won’t be at all surprised to have the AP devote a column to this boop-oop-o-doopdeer or whatizzit.  The first mention of the queer animal appeared in an editorial in a newspaper of the peninsula.  Here is the quotation:

“In his excitement, he had mistaken her for a rabbit and pulled the trigger – not waiting to see the antlers.”

If you see a rabbit with antlers running around in the woods, don’t you do a thing but hike to the nearest telephone and call up this office so we can send out a hunting party to bring in the boop-oop-o-doopdeer for the conservation department’s wild-animals-we-have-known exhibit at the Marquette county fair next year.

The Ironwood Times (Ironwood, Michigan), November 28, 1930, page 8.

An innocent reading of the report is that the rabbit hunter accidentally shot a deer, shooting before making sure it was a rabbit – “not waiting to see the antlers [which would have shown it was a deer].” A more ridiculous reading of the passage suggests a deer hunter accidentally shot a rabbit without ensuring it was a deer – “not waiting to see the antlers [which would have shown it was a deer].”  In either case, the report is ambiguous, giving rise to the inference that the hunter believed rabbits had antlers or had seen rabbits with antlers.

Another newspaper published what appears to be an alternate version of the Michigan story, only this time in Minnesota and garbled by several layers of miscommunication as in a game of “telephone.”  

Rabbits with deer antlers have been seen by Minnesota hunters who, if their liquid ammunition holds out, will be chased up trees by squirrels with giraffe necks and elephant trunks.

South Bend Tribune (Indiana), December 8, 1931, page 6.

An Unnatural History of “Jackalopes”

With decades of reported sightings, perhaps it was inevitable that someone, somewhere, sometime would create a lifelike model.  It’s not entirely who did it first or where, but there are several candidates.  Conventional wisdom holds that the Herrick Brothers of Douglas, Wyoming did it in 1939, or 1934 or 1932, but there are other candidates.

A rare, early photograph of something like a jackalope, said to have been captured and mounted near San Benito, Texas, was reprinted in newspapers across the country in late-1912 and into 1913.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania), December 15, 1912, page 7.
Although it’s possible that this was an actual virus-inflicted jackrabbit, nearly four decades later, a man from Canada claimed to have faked a photograph and story of an antlered jackrabbit that “got around all over America” years earlier.  The report said it had happened “25 years ago,” which would date it to 1921.  But the only such viral image an exhaustive search for early jackalopes has uncovered is the one pictured above, from 1912.  If his story is true, and if the date given was just a general recollection off by a few years, John Reid of Princeton, Ontario may have made the earliest known “jackalope.”

John Reid, of Princeton (Ontario), is hale and hearty at 87 years, because he has been sustained during the years by a pretty good sense of humor.  Out of the village comes the story of how he whittled down and sharpened a pair of deer spikes and stuck them into the head of a big jack rabbit he shot 25 years ago.  He suspended the rabbit well enough for a good picture.  How that story got around all over America! An antlered jack rabbit, forsooth!

Ottawa Journal (Ontario), February 13, 1946, page 8.

Another antlered jackrabbit reportedly hung on the wall of a restaurant in Livingston, Montana as early as 1928.  Again, the dates might be off, and the animal might actually have been diseased, but then again, it might refer to an early example of a stuffed “jackalope.”

An antlered rabbit, snapped by amateur photographers for two decades, is in the possession of a thief. 

An unknown collector stole the mounted animal from a local restaurant.  The owner swears the rabbit, with horns like deer antlers, was shot by a woodsman in the Hellroaring country after its horns snagged in brush.

The Independent-Record (Helena, Montana), July 24, 1948, page 2.

Given that “jackalopes” are so unbelievable, it seems fitting that the earliest, contemporaneous reference to a “jackalope” hunting trophy on display was submitted as a local entry to a national Ripley’s Believe it or Not contest. 

Rabbit With Antlers

Caroline Heft . . . makes note of something thousands of people must have seen: “In April, 1932, there was on display in the window of the N. P. [(Northern Pacific)] railroad ticket office, St. Paul, a snow shoe rabbit with beautiful little antlers about six inches long, each antler had two prongs.  A clerk in the office informed me this freak had been captured out in Idaho.”

The Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 13, 1932, page 8.

The year 1932 is a critical date in the history of the “Jackalope.”  It’s the jumping off point for determining whether the Herrick brothers, Douglas and Ralph, could have invented the “jackalope” in 1932, as claimed. 

Discounting the earlier claims that were made decades later, is it possible that the Herricks made a “jackalope” in 1932 that inspired the one in the St. Paul railroad ticket office in April 1932?  By the Herrick’s own admission, it couldn’t be the same “jackalope,” because they claim to have sold their first “jackalope” to the LaBonte Hotel in Douglas.

Let’s look at the facts.  In April 1932, the older of the two Herrick brothers, Douglas, was 11 years old, three months shy of his twelfth birthday in July.[i]  His younger brother, Ralph, would most likely have been 8 years old, or at most a month or two past his ninth birthday.[ii] 

In 1977, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times separately reported the year of the Herricks’ first “jackalope” as 1934.  But a more local newspaper, The Casper Star-Tribune, located fifty-five miles down I-25 from Douglas, reported the year as 1939 on numerous occasions, beginning as early as 1992.  And when the Wyoming state legislature considered naming the “jackalope” that state’s “official mythical animal” in 2005 (the bill died in committee), they listed 1939 as the year of origin.

It was only Ralph Herrick who “insisted” after his brother’s death in 2003 that it happened in 1932.[iii]  On balance, the evidence suggests they were likely not the first, but it’s not impossible.  It is as possible as an 11-year-old and an 8-year-old making a fake hunting trophy sometime during the first three months of 1932.  But that’s not to say they didn’t create their own “jackalope” independently, as others seem to have done elsewhere.

And if the Herricks made the first one in Douglas, Wyoming, they likely played a leading role in popularizing the “jackalope,” perhaps inspiring the town of Douglas to usher their “jackalopes” into national prominence in the wake of a Presidential visit to the region by Harry S. Truman in 1950.

The Chamber of Commerce of Douglas, Wyoming might also have been inspired by the Chamber of Commerce of Whitefish, Montana, who for decades had famously promoted their town with a fake-taxidermy of fur-bearing fish, which had coincidentally been made by a different set of taxidermist brothers. 

And Whitefish, Montana, in turn, was likely inspired by nearby Glacier National Park and the Great Northern Railway, who had both promoted tourism to the park with tall-tales of “wimpusses” and “polar trout” and their own of fake-taxidermy.

Fur-Bearing Fish

The earliest fur-bearing fish reference in Montana is a play on the arguably ambiguous wording of a proposed wildlife management bill for the protection of “fur-bearing animals and fish.”

The bill introduced in the house by Boardman of Deer Lodge, providing for the better protection of fur-bearing animals and fish, relates to a subject that may very properly receive legislative attention.  During the past years the destruction has been immense, and in consequence of this wanton slaughter fur-bearing fish are already almost unknown in the sparkling brooks of Montana.  But proper legislative measures can easily correct this abuse, and then the toothsome “pike,” the broad shouldered “sheephead” and estimable “sucker” will cherish beneath their shaggy sides, deep in their heart of hearts, a well spring of gratitude for their noble protectors in the Montana legislature.

Butte Miner (Butte, Montana), February 1, 1911, page 4.

The joke may have been a one-off.  There was no claim (real or humorous) that they actually existed, and there is no evidence of any local fur-bearing fish legends or traditions there until decades later, when separate, unrelated reports “polar trout” were combined to form the legend of the fur-bearing fish of Iceberg Lake.

In June of 1913, newspapers across the country published the astonishing claim that so-called “polar trout,” previously known to have existed only in the Arctic Ocean, had been found in Iceberg Lake in America’s newest National Park.  There was only one possible explanation (cue eye-roll) – a subterranean connection between the park and the Arctic Ocean. 

Oakland Tribune (California), June 1, 1913, page 40.

A few months later, newspapers across the country published a fake-news item about the return of a purported explorer named John Bunker, who had recently returned from Greenland with stories and actual specimens furry “polar trout,” but it was likely pure bunk.

Polar trout, the only fur-bearing fish known to natural history, is the latest contribution of the arctic regions, according to John Bunker of Northwood Center, N. H., known as the Isaac Walton of that state, who today reached Boston from a two months’ exploring trip in Greenland.  He brought photographs and actual specimens of the strange fish, which he has called the polar trout.

. . . The skin is covered with a fine brownish fur, resembling the texture of moleskin.  This fur is slightly spotted with white, as is a young seal in the spring.  Bunker says this fact first led him to call the curiosity a polar trout.

Inter-Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), October 20, 1913, page 5.

Six months later, a travel writer appears to have conflated the two stories into a new rumor – fur-bearing fish, like the ones previously reported from Greenland, could also be found in Iceberg Lake.  The discovery was attributed to “Hoke Smith,” but was it merely a hoax?

Iceberg Lake is the habitat of the polar trout discovered by Hoke Smith, who says they have fur instead of scales.

Norton Courier (Norton, Kansas), March 19, 1914, page 7.

The report came from a full-page travelogue and photo essay of Glacier National Park that appeared in dozens of newspapers across the country.  The story, “Among the Glaciers,” was written by a man named Frederick William Pickard, “expert fisherman,” Vice President of DuPont, and author of several serious fishing guides,[iv] not by someone generally prone to flights of fancy.  The comment appeared as a casual aside, tucked in between descriptions of the new automobile road and the Glacier Park Hotel, and with no apparent skepticism or curiosity.

It is not clear whether Pickard conflated the two stories on purpose, or whether the stories had already been combined by others, and he was just repeating something he had heard in the park.  But he almost certainly did not swallow the story hook-line-and-sinker.  Anyone visiting the park in 1914 would have been regaled with all sorts of silly stories about the “natural history” of the park, most of them coming (or attributed to) the same man.

The “polar trout” hoax of 1913 was only one of several unbelievably strange “discoveries” in the park attributed to wordsmith and press agent, “Hoke Smith,” a hoax-smith extraordinaire, even if by any other name.[v]  Three years before the first fur-bearing fish stories from the park, he was credited with discovering the “Wimpuss” (good eating in-season, but only if killed properly – by making them laugh themselves to death) and the “Bourbon Springs” (formed by acres of corn trapped underground after an earthquake in 2435 BC, distilled underground by a hot water geyser, and aged four thousand years, before bubbling to the surface in the middle of field of mint – makes for good mint juleps chilled with glacial ice).

Park management, the hotel owner and the Great Northern Railway, which brought visitors to the park, all embraced these freshly minted legends as elements of their marketing plans. 

The Glacier Hotel hosted a “grass dance” in October 1911, “one of the features being the discovery of ‘Bourbon spring’ in the center mint bed.  The spring was surrounded by small pine trees and mint juleps cooled by glacier ice were served.  While it was not possible to capture a live wampus, the party are all in favor of coming again for this purpose.”[vi]

Picture books placed prominently in the “lounging tents of all the camps” for viewing by the guests included “an article on the ‘Wimpus’” and a “clever sketch by a Chicago writer and has flattering reference to Hoke Smith, one of the Great Northern’s publicity men.”[vii]  Presumably, the “clever sketch” was the one that appeared alongside Richard Henry Little’s original “Wimpuss” story in the Chicago Tribune.

Chicago Tribune, August 11, 1911, page 6.

The hotel also kept a fake-taxidermy, stuffed “Wimpuss” on the wall above the newsstand in the lobby.

The walls are adorned with trophies of the chase . . . as well as . . . the only existing specimen of the far-famed “wimpus” of Glacier National Park.

. . . Would you believe there are wimpus believers!  A model of this creature occupies a conspicuous place over the newsstand in Glacier Park Hotel.  Close observation and careful study of th external appearance of the animal show it to be a mixture of fish, monkey, reptile, cat, spider, and bat.

Mathilde Edith Holtz, Glacier national Park, Its Trails and Treasures, New York, George H. Doran Company, 1917, pages 34, 170.

Purple Parrot, Northwestern University, Volume 4, Number 7, April 1924, page 5.

While the “Wimpuss” and “Bourbon Springs” received occasional mentions in the press over the following decade, the furry “polar trout” faded into relative obscurity.  That would change in 1925.

Fire Chief Collins has returned from the convention of Montana firemen, held at Whitefish last week, enthusiastic over the reception tendered to the visitors, and with a fish story that would make Isaac Walton reach for a gun.  Irvin S. Cobb, famous humorist, who is vacationing in Glacier National park, was seated next to Chief Collins at a banquet where the insult to the finny tribe was perpetuated and is now preparing to tell the world of the “fur-bearing fish.”

. . .
The toastmaster announced that after much labor an entirely new specimen of the underwater wiggler had been produced and brought from under the table a large glass jar containing a fish about a foot long, completely covered with, what was beyond a doubt, a wonderful coat of fur.  It was explained that the fish could live only on an island and that the citizens of Whitefish had built an island in Whitefish lake to accommodate the new species.  The one difficulty that could not be overcome was the fact that the fur-bearing fish had a peculiar digestive system and could exist on nothing but ice worms.

According to Chief Collings, it was more than a quarter of an hour before the guests, including Cobb, were wise to the fact that a clever taxidermist had slipped a speckled trout into a gopher’s hide, and added that Cobb then and there started to “dope out a story.”

The Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana), June 30, 1925, page 8.

The initial report did not disclose the name of the “discoverer,” but one year later, a Montana newspaper gave credit to the Chief Dispatcher of the Whitefish office of the Great Northern Railway.

Great Falls Tribune (Great Falls, Montana), August 18, 1926, page 4.
Decades later however (as was the case with the jackalope), two taxidermist brothers claimed to have invented the fur-bearing fish.

It lived in iceberg lake in the Montana Rockies.  It had a fur coat instead of scales to protect it from the burning cold of the lake.  It hunted fat ice worms for dinner, and the men who fished for it had to heat their hooks first.  It often exploded, once landed, just from the sudden change in temperature. 

That fish was one of the minor national preoccupations of its time.  The new streaked across the country, and scientists gave out statements. . . .

The fur-bearing trout was though up by two brothers, taxidermists in Whitefish – C. H. and S. A. Karstetter, who still practice their art here.[viii]

It was a local gag for a while.  The late R. E. Marble of Whitefish took a picture of the oddity. 

The Billings Gazette (Billings, Montana), July 4, 1942, page 7.

R. E. Marble’s postcard of Hicken’s Fur Bearing Trout.  Examples can still be found in online auctions from time to time.  This example bore a postmark dated 1928.

In 1930, one local businessman sent what might have been an identical copy of this same postcard to a friend in Baltimore. 

The water in this lake is so cold that nature has taken care of her own by providing the fish with a thick coat of fur, the letter said.  In fact, the water is so cold, Mr. Jackson writes, that it is beyond the freezing point.

The Evening Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), November 26, 1930, page 6.

And in addition to the postcards, locals occasionally presented various stuffed-shirts with their own stuffed “fur-bearing fish.”

Whitefish, May 17. – (Special) – Roy. N. Arnold, city water commissioner . . .  had the honor of presenting a mounted specimen of the renowned fur-bearing fish to the president of the National Waterworks association who was in attendance at the meeting. 

The Missoulian (Missoula, Montana), May 18, 1938, page 5.

James E. Murray, United State Senator from Montana, showing off his “mounted furry fish.”  Great Falls Tribune, July 4, 1942, page 3.

 Another article clarified the origin of the fish, splitting the difference, giving credit to everyone involved for their respective contributions, including to the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce.

Whitefish, Jan. 25. (Special) – The famous fur-bearing fish, invented by the late James Hicken, Great Northern dispatcher, built by Karstetter Bros., photographed by the late R. E. Marble and publicized by the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce, is the basis for the fourth annual contest in business letter writing sponsored by the Business Education World, a professional journal for teachers of business subjects.

Great Falls Tribune (Great Falls, Montana), January 26, 1941, page 7.

But as “famous” as Whitefish had become as the home of the “fur-bearing fish,” there were other rivals to the title. 

In 1937, a purported catch in Missouri briefly caught the public’s eye.

The fish resembles a trout in every respect except that it has a rich coat of fur completely covering its body in longitudinal stripes, brown and gray-yellow, much on the order of a chipmunk.  The stripes run from snout to tail.

Orlando Evening Star (Orlando, Florida), October 29, 1937, page 9.

William LaVarre debunked the Missouri fish in his syndicated column, “Seeing’s Believing!” where he published “photographic proof” sent to him by the purported discoverer.  The fur, he said, was from a chipmunk.

The Indianapolis Star (Indiana), January 9, 1938, Gravure Section, page 3.

About one year later, similar stories popped up about “fur-bearing fish” in the Arkansas River in Colorado.  It was no ordinary fish.  And the man responsible was no ordinary faker; he was a convicted pyramid scheme fraudster, recently pardoned by President Roosevelt and reinventing himself as publicity agent for the Chamber of Commerce of Salida, Colorado.

SALIDA, Colo. – Wilbur B. Foshay, who in 1928, headed a 22-million-dollar utilities empire, is working these days for the people who got him out of jail. And doing a good job, too.

As the super-salesman manager of this citys Chamber of Commerce . . . the 57-year-old Foshay is one of Salida’s most admired citizens. . . .

The Dothan Eagle (Dothan, Alabama), February 28, 1939, page 10.

Wilbur Foshay’s last name is familiar to residents of Minneapolis, where the Foshay Tower is still a prominent feature of the skyline.  But whereas his tower still stands, his fortunes sank.  His crimes, related to financial schemes that crashed with the stock market in 1929, were precisely the sorts of financial dealings that helped bring about the crash. 

Others lost their shirts, but Foshay lost his freedom.  He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, serving only three years, after Roosevelt reduced his sentence by five years, with another two off for good behavior.

Foshay’s first big success was his popular “Follow the Hearts to Salid” campaign.

“Follow the Hearts to Salida,” image courtesy of the 

 His second big success involved a different type of bathing beauty, one dressed for cold weather.

Tourists and tenderfeet from the effete East have been regaled frequently with the tale of fur-bearing trout that were indigenous to the waters of the Arkansas River.

Recently, a resident of Pratt, Kan., wrote to city officials here urgently requesting proof of the story of the unusual fish.

The letter was turned over to Wilbur b. Foshay, secretary of the Salida Chamber of Commerce.

Without definitely committing himself – in a letter – as to the truth of the existence of pelted piscatorial prizes in Arkansas, Foshay simply mailed the inquirer a photograph of a fur-bearing trout.

Oldtimers in the region aver these fabled fish were numerous hereabouts at one time, but that they are rapidly nearing extinction.

Orlando Sentinel (Florida), December 4, 1938, page 11.
Efforts to prove or disprove the rumor were frustrated by law – according to Foshay.

Furry fin-flippers, Foshay said in a letter . . ., can be caught only in January – when fishing is not permitted in Colorado streams.

Nevada State Journal, January 10, 1939, page 1.

Years later, similar restrictions on Douglas, Wyoming’s “Jackalope Hunting License” prevented would-be jackalope hunters from bagging their own in the wild; the license restricts hunting to June 31, between sunrise and sunset.

Not everyone took the claims of fur-bearing fish in Salida seriously.

“Fur-bearing Fish Found in Colorado.” – Headline.

Old stuff, according to Elmer Twitchell, the famous piscatorial expert.  “I found fur-bearing fish years ago,” he declares.  “In fact, I bred ‘em for the pelts.  Know what killed the business?”

“No,” we replied.

“Moth-fish,” replied Elmer.

The Record (Hackensack, New Jersey), January 26, 1939, page 8.

The head of the bureau of fisheries aquarium in Washington DC, on the other hand, waded into the debate with perhaps too much seriousness, throwing a big wet rag over the story.

“This is the season for fur-bearing fish, and naturally so,” said the fisheries official.  “The fur, however, isn’t fur, but fungus.”

The Evening Times (Sayre, Pennsylvania), January 13, 1939, page 7.

The head of the bureau of fisheries was not the only person to take the stories seriously. Dorothy A. Johnson, a former resident of Whitefish, Montana then living in New York City and working as a freelance writer and editor of for a publishing company,[ix] “blew her top” when first reading about them.

Defending the good name of Whitefish as the authentic habitat of the authentic fish.  I challenged the Salida man, Wilbur Foshay to a duel “on the second Tuesday of any week in 1989” and named as my seconds (without consulting them) Fiorello LaGuardia, mayor of New York, and Joe Louis.

Great Falls Tribune (Montana), April 13, 1952, page 15.         

She also encouraged the secretary of the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce to engage in an extended letter-writing war with Foshay (with carbon copies to Johnson).  The effort was successful, extracting a retraction from Foshay and establishing a brief truce. 

Everything was fine until she (as editor of a business education magazine) arranged for the fur-bearing fish of Whitefish, Montana to be featured as the subject of a national letter-writing contest for students.  Shortly afterward, Foshay planted Salida fur-bearing fish stories in two magazines, This Week and World Digest; she countered with a mention in the Saturday Evening Post, after which they “retired to neutral corners and growled at each other.”

In 1945, when Johnson was the editor of a women’s magazine called, The Woman, she published an article about the whole affair entitled, “The Feud of the Fur-Bearing Fish.”

Years later, when she recounted the whole affair for the Great Falls Tribune, she included a photo of her own fur-bearing fish alongside her collection of pistols, perhaps sending Foshay one last, subliminal message about their feud.

Great Falls Tribune (Montana), April 13, 1952, page 2.

As compelling as the fish feud may have been, it was not her best work.  At least three of her stories were adapted as screenplays for three classic Westerns, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, starring Jimmy Stewart, The Hanging Tree, starring Gary Cooper, and A Man Called Horse, starring Richard Harris.

In 1913, a press agent for the Great Northern Railroad reported “polar trout” in Iceberg Lake, trout later said to be fur-bearing.  In 1925, two taxidermists and a dispatcher for the Great Northern Railway created a physical model of a “fur-bearing fish.”  In 1928, passersby saw an antlered jackrabbit in the window of a ticket agent for the Northern Pacific Railway in St. Paul, Minnesota. 

It seems appropriate, then, that a railroad would play a role making “jackalope” the standard terminology and establishing Douglas, Wyoming as the undisputed Jackalope Capital of the World.  But it wasn’t a press agent, ticket agent or dispatcher who did it.  It was a whistle-stop tour by President Harry S. Truman.

“Jackalopes” – Douglas, Wyoming

In early 1950, officials in two western states encouraged President Truman to attend the dedication of two separate dams.  The Chamber of Commerce of Casper, Wyoming invited him to attend the dedication of the nearby Kortes Dam, then scheduled to coincide with the June meeting of the Missouri Basin Inter-Agency Committee in Casper the following June.[x]  The Bureau of Reclamation hoped to have former First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt and President Truman at the dedication of the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State.[xi] 

The President accepted both invitations, announcing a “non-political” trip to Grand Coulee Dam, with “whistle stops” along the way,[xii] including a stop at the Burlington Station in Casper, with a brief excursion to the dedication of Kortes Dam, now moved up to May to coincide with the President’s visit.[xiii]

The Chamber of Commerce of Douglas, Wyoming, which lies about 55 miles east of Casper, on the same Burlington rail line that would carry the President to his whistle-stop in Casper, sensed an opportunity for some national exposure.  Their own hoax-smiths took a page out of “Hoke Smith’s” book, getting the word out to politicians, journalists, hangers-on, or anyone else coming to Wyoming, that they might find something interesting to see in Douglas. 

Their press-releases followed the familiar pattern established by Whitefish, Montana; civic pride, photographs, fake-taxidermy, and an elaborate “natural history” of a mythical animal.  Whether coined for the purpose, or repeating a designation already in common use locally, the story may also be the earliest known example of the word, “jackalope,” in print.

. . . “The first white man to see this singular specimen was a trapper named Roy Ball in 1829.  When he told of it later he was promptly denounced as a liar.

“An odd trait of the jackalope is its ability to imitate the human voice.  Cowboys singing to their herds at night have been startled to hear their lonesome melodies often repeated faithfully from some nearby hillside.  The phantom echo comes from the throat of some jackalope.

“They sing only on dark nights just before a thunderstorm.  Stories that they sometimes get together and sing in chorus are discounted by those who know their traits best.”

The News (Paterson, New Jersey), March 1, 1950, page 21.

The plan seemed to work, with numerous mentions in newspapers across the country, and an editorial in The Christian Science Monitor (May 15, 1950), then one of the leading news magazines in the country, which prompted a new spate of news stories around the country.

Casper Tribune-Herald, May 21, 1950, page 6.

The Christian Science Monitor gave Truman’s “non-political” trip a political spin, imagining another kind of mixed political animal, the “donkephant” – something that today would more likely be called a RINO.

This is the general region through which President Truman has passed recently on his “nonpolitical” speaking trip.  We are waiting now for reports of political naturalists to see whether they report the presence of any donkephants in the area – that is, Republicans who were half-persuaded by folksy eloquence of the Democratic chief executive from the party of the elephant to that of the donkey.

Star-Tribune (Casper, Wyoming), May 21, 1950, page 6 (from an editorial in The Christian Science Monitor).

Boston Globe, June 18, 1950, page A25.

Although the level of attention to “jackalopes,” and the name itself, were new in 1950, stuffed trophies of jackrabbits with antlers had been known in Wyoming and throughout the West for years, aside from the several examples already discussed.    

A woman in Wisconsin showed off her postcard of one from her vacation in Wyoming in 1936.

Martha Cleveland, Mazomanie, has spent several summers on the Horned Jackrabbit ranch in Montana, and if you don’t believe that there is such a thing as a horned jackrabbit, she can show you the postal cards which the ranch manager keeps on hand for the guests to send out to doubting friends which show a photograph of a big jackrabbit with a pair of fine antlers sprouting out of his head just in front of his tall flopping ears.  The camera never lies, they say, but there is something very odd about that rabbit.

The Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin), July 26, 1936, page 3.

A young man in Montana stuffed and mounted his own jackrabbit with antlers in 1940.

Wayne Woodard of Roy, a young farmer boy who has been doing taxidermy work during his spare moments, is attracting attention . . . .

He displayed a jackrabbit head, with very small deer horns so cleverly placed that hunters stood in wonder when they first saw it, thinking they were looking at a new species of deer.

Great Falls Tribune (Great Falls, Montana), June     9, 1940, Sunday Magazine, page 7.
Bert Clancy, a “great nimrod” and Assistant District Attorney for Santa Fe, New Mexico, displayed one in his office in 1944.

The mounted head of a jackrabbit with horns, four inches long, hangs from the wall of his office at the country courthouse.  “Seeing is believing,” said Clancy.  “I’m not under oath and I refuse to be cross-examined.  There’s a New Mexico jackrabbit.”

The Santa Fe New Mexican, October 17, 1944, page 8.      

And a furniture dealer in Indiana had one on display in his store in 1946.

A great lover of the outdoor life, Mr. Gable has made frequent trips into the choice hunting spots in Quebec, Colorado and Wyoming. . . . His trophies, all on display in the west room of the store, include four moose heads, several deer heads, antlers, a sailfish, and a large sea turtle.  Not to be forgotten, however, and most treasured of all his trophies is a rare species of jackrabbit – with antlers!

The Muncie Star (Indiana), June 2, 1946, page 2.

“Antlered jackrabbits” had even garnered some notice in the press in central Wyoming, just down the road from Douglas, a few years earlier when Harold King, the President of the Natrona County Game and Fish Association, put one on display in Casper, Wyoming in 1946.  Comments in the article seem to suggest that jackrabbits with antlers were not yet generally well known, even in central Wyoming, and that they were not yet universally known as “jackalopes.”

Even an expert hunter cannot always believe his eyes, as the above picture indicates.  Many a Casper sportsman looked twice when the “antlered jackrabbit” appeared in a store window and caused considerable consternation among sportsmen, sportswomen and children.

Tribune-Herald (Casper, Wyoming), March 3, 1946, Annual Wyoming Edition Supplement, page 18.

Harold King also laid out an elaborate origin story, different from the one sent out by the Douglas Chamber of Commerce a few years later.  King said that the antlers were “an example of how Mother Nature tries to even up the odds among her animals,” and that the modification was of recent vintage, having developed in response to unique conditions following a cricket invasion in 1938.

The antlers provided a place for the crickets to sit besides on the long ears.  It seems that before the crickets became so thick on rabbits’ ears that they weighted them down and the rabbit couldn’t hear the coyotes sneaking up on them.

Tribune-Herald (Casper, Wyoming), March 3, 1946, Annual Wyoming Edition Supplement, page 18.

The hard-news journalists from the East who followed President Truman’s train through Douglas and Casper in 1950 somehow missed this discrepancy.  But luckily, a local reporter cleared up the confusion a year or so later.  The specimen Harold King displayed in Casper was no “jackalope,” it was a “jackrabbit with antlers,” a separate species, “possibly a cousin, 43 and ¾ times removed from the jackalope” in Douglas.[xiv] 

The same article also claimed that King’s “jackrabbit with antlers” had been on display for “15 years,” dating it to about 1936, a time when Douglas and Ralph Herrick would have been about 15 and 11 years old, respectively. 

Today, Douglas, Wyoming is the undisputed “Home of the Jackalopes.” Even if they weren’t first, it is a well-earned honor.  Not only did they put “jackalopes” on the map, “jackalopes” put them on the map (with an assist from a Presidential visit).  The center of town is called “Jackalope Square,” where you can see one of the world’s finest jackalope sculptures (although Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota, might have something to say about that), and they are the home of an annual “Jackalope Days” festival.

The Chamber of Commerce in Van Horn, Texas tried something similar with something called the Antelabbit, but it never caught on.

Daily Mountain Eagle (Jasper, Alabama), December 18, 1958, page 16.


Although the Herrick brothers may not have made the original and first “jackalope” ever, they did make a lot of them, and they played an important role in “jackalope” history, which would make their first “jackalope” an important artifact.  Sadly, however, it is missing.  It suffered the same fate as the Karstetter brothers’ original, permanently mounted “fur-bearing fish” from Whitefish, Montana – it was stolen.

The “original mounted fur-bearing fish” has been stolen from Frenchy’s Chinese cafĂ© here, L. G. (Frenchy) DeVall, the owner values the fish at $100.  Its value as the first of its kind cannot be estimated, he said.  The existence of fur-bearing fish has been a subject of controversy for 30 years, since the first one ever discovered was presented, to the author, Irvin S. Cobb by Jim Hicken of Whitefish when both men were initiated into the Blackfeet Indian tribe in ceremonies here. That fish was ffresh and, for course, spoiled.  Karstetter Brothers, local taxidermists, have a patent on the process of preparing the fur-bearing fish and only 12 have been mounted.  The one stolen from Mr. DeVall was the first prepared for permanent display.

Missoulian (Missoula, Montana), June 17, 1951, page 11.

The Herrick’s first “jackalope” was stolen in September 1977, shortly after attention was focused on it by an article in the Wall Street Journal in August.

[T]he original jackalope was sold 43 years ago to the late [Roy] Ball, who put it on display in his La Bonte Hotel here.  This jackalope was stolen from the hotel in September and the culprit remains at large.

“Where the Deer and the Jackalope Play,” The New York Times, November 26, 1977, page 26.

All of which just goes to show you . . .

Hair/Hare today, gone tomorrow.

Detail from the back of a matchbook cover from the LaBonte Hotel.

Links to Further reading:

[i] On the occasion of his death in 2003, Douglas Herrick’s hometown obituary gave his birth date as July 8, 1920. Casper Star-Tribune (Casper, Wyoming), January 6, 2003, page 4.
[ii] A man named Ralph Herrick was 62 years old in February 1985 when he was sentenced to one year in jail and five years of “stringent probation,” after pleading guilty to fondling a 10-year-old girl the previous summer.  When officers came to arrest him in January 1985, he held-off the police during a nine-hour standoff, threatening to blow himself up with a fake explosive. Casper Star-Tribune (Casper, Wyoming), February 21, 1985, page B1.  Given the location, low population density, and similarity of name and age, it seems likely it is the same man as the taxidermist named "Ralph Herrick." 
[iii] “Douglas Herrick, 82, Dies; Father of West’s Jackalope,” New York Times, January 19, 2003.
[iv] Frederick William Pickard was originally from Portland, Maine, attended Bowdoin College (Class of 1894) and became a Vice President of DuPont.  The citation for an honorary doctorate conferred on him by his alma mater describes him as an “expert fisherman.”  He is the author of Trout Fishing in Ireland, Sixteen British Trout Rivers, and Trout Fishing in New Zealand in Wartime.
[v] The name “Hoke Smith” raised the hoax antenna of at least one amateur historian.  The name had been used for decades in punning reference to hoaxes, most commonly in association with stories involving an actual person named “Hoke Smith,” a former Secretary of the Interior and Governor of Georgia who served as a U. S. Senator from Georgia from 1911-1920.  Various references to the press-agent or newspaperman named “Hoke Smith” who is credited with devising several tall-tales about Glacier National Park, generally refer to him as being from Minneapolis or St. Paul, or as a newspaperman from Chicago.  Coincidentally, there was, in fact, a journalist from Minneapolis  named Roy “Hoke” Smith, who later wrote for the Chicago Evening Post.  It is possible that the seemingly fake name “Hoke Smith” for a wordsmith who devises hoaxes (“hoax-smith), was actually his name, or at least the nickname he used when making up fake-news stories.
[vi] Butte Miner (Butte, Montana), October 3, 1911, page 5.
[vii] Semi-Weekly Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington), September 15, 1912, Magazine Section, page 1.
[viii] In September 1912, the Karstetter brothers moved their taxidermy business to Whitefish, Montana from their old home in what is now the ghost town of Java, Montana (Whitefish Pilot, September 5, 1912, page 3).  They stayed in business as taxidermists and hunting guides for decades.  In 1929, they stuffed and mounted perhaps their second-most famous animal, a parachute-jumping chimpanzee that died in 1928 after his chute failed to open in a show at Great Falls, Montana. (The Independent-Record (Helena, Montana), Janaury 20, 1929, page 10).
[ix] “Witty, Gritty Taleteller: A Life of Dorothy M. Johnson,” Brian D’Ambrosio,, October 4, 2017 ( ).
[x] Casper Tribune-Herald, January 20, 1950, page 4.
[xi] The Semi-Weekly Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington), February 8, 1950, page 16.
[xii] Daily Herald  (Provo, Utah), February 24, 1950, page 16.
[xiii] Spokane Chronicle (Spokane, Washington), March 9, 1950, page 1.
[xiv] Casper Herald-Tribune, September 14, 1951, page 9.