Get Hoppin’!: Exploring the Legend of the Tennessee Jackalope

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Think you know all about tall tales? Think again. Tennessee harbors a legend wilder than a catfish riding a riverboat: the mysterious, antlered jackrabbit known as the jackalope. Whether it’s genuine frontier folklore or a cleverly crafted hoax that got out of hand, the jackalope has hopped its way into the quirky heart of Tennessee and beyond.

The jackalope story, as the tale goes, originates way back in the days of the Wild West. Bored cowboys or perhaps trappers with a little too much time and moonshine on their hands spun a yarn about jackrabbits sporting antlers. Was it a bit of surreal desert fever? An exaggerated prank? Whatever sparked the legend, it stuck like a burr in a saddle blanket.

Part of the jackalope’s appeal is the elaborate mythology that’s sprung up around it. Some claim they are only visible during thunderstorms. Others say jackalopes possess a talent for mimicking the human voice, luring unsuspecting wanderers astray. There’s even the whisper of a fearsome sub-species – the warrior jackalope, armed with razor-sharp antlers.

Like any good piece of folklore, the jackalope refuses to stay confined by its origins. You’ll find postcards boasting vintage “photos” of the elusive critter at Tennessee truck stops. Taxidermists have jokingly (or perhaps not so jokingly) produced “genuine” jackalope mounts – an impressive mix of rabbit parts, antlers, and a healthy dose of creative license. Jackalopes even pop up in video games and animated films as quirky, fantastical creatures.

Douglas, Wyoming, has proudly claimed the title of “Jackalope Capital of the World,” but Tennessee towns can occasionally be spotted winking at their western counterparts. Festivals celebrating the jackalope and sightings in the remote corners of the state pop up from time to time, keeping the legend alive and well.

But Are They Real?

The short answer is no. Scientists assure us that antlered bunnies are not roaming the Tennessee wilds. However, there is a real-world condition that might have fueled the legend. Rabbits infected with the Shope papillomavirus can develop horn-like growths on their heads, leading gullible or imaginative observers to believe they’d stumbled upon a genuine jackalope.

“Whether jackalopes are real or not is almost beside the point,” says a local folklorist. “They embody the tall tale spirit of the American West, with a Tennessee twist. It’s more about having fun with the idea than proving or disproving it.”

Part of the jackalope’s enduring charm is the knowing wink it inspires. Most people who perpetuate the myth do so with a good-natured appreciation for the absurd. It’s about keeping a bit of whimsical mystery alive, leaning into the human love for the slightly strange. Initiating a gullible newcomer into the secret with a tall tale about a jackalope sighting is a time-honored tradition in some parts of Tennessee.

Finding the Jackalope Spirit

You don’t have to trek into the Tennessee mountains to experience the joy of the jackalope. Keep your eyes peeled in antique shops, where postcards depicting the creature often hide amongst dusty treasures. Hit up a quirky roadside diner and scan the walls for a humorous jackalope painting. Sometimes, the most rewarding hunts aren’t for the creature itself, but the unexpected places its spirit pops up.

“The jackalope is a reminder not to take life too seriously,” says a local artist with a fondness for crafting whimsical jackalope sculptures. “It’s about embracing the ‘what if?’ and letting a little of that Wild West absurdity into your day.”

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