Texas Myth #183


It was a banner day when Texas joined the Union, in 1845—because, legend has it, Uncle Sam agreed to grant Texas’s flag special stature, as befitted a region that had once been a discrete nation. Though the tenacity of this fable has never flagged, it is untrue: All state flags are allowed to fly on the same level as Old Glory or, if on the same halyard, just below it. That rule is the, uh, standard.

Q: Ever since I was a kid in the sixties, I have seen mounted jackalope heads all over Texas. So who invented the mythical critter?

A: Fortunately (unfortunately?), it wasn’t a Texan. The credit generally goes to a Wyoming resident, Douglas Herrick, who, according to family lore, came up with the idea of mounting deer horns on a jackrabbit head in 1932. The result was a sort of Western snipe hunt for Yankees, and the idea multiplied like (what else?) rabbits, spreading all across the West and taking especially firm hold in Tall Tale Central, a.k.a. Texas. To wit: The state lottery once hawked Jackalope Loot tickets, Odessa is home to a hockey team christened the Jackalopes, and the horned hare head is a fixture in Texas souvenir shops and barbecue joints. But note that most specimens are really jackadeer, sporting ho-hum white-tailed antlers instead of the rarer pronghorn rack. (P.S. This’ll put you right off your ribs and brisket: Thanks to a papillomavirus, some wild rabbits really do develop hornlike protuberances on their heads. Eew.)

Q: The “Dr” in “Dr Pepper” doesn’t have a period after it. Where the heck did it go?

A: The nation’s seventh-best-selling soft drink was invented in a Waco drugstore in 1885. In 1950, during a surge of postwar popularity, the company decided to modernize its bottles with a new typeface. But the design of the lowercase r consisted of a short vertical line and a large, slightly detached dot at top right. When the period, another large dot, was added at bottom right, the name “Dr. Pepper” looked like “D1: Pepper.” This was D1:stracting. So, to avoid confusing the pepper-upper’s fans, the upper Peppers in the organization opted to ditch the period permanently. It’s now as nonexistent as the drink’s supposed number-one ingredient, prune juice.

Q: Why are Hereford cattle sometimes referred to as polled Herefords? They’re animals. They don’t get to vote.

A: Because “polled” means, among other things, “having no horns.” Although some Herefords do have horns—puny little things compared with those of the vaunted Longhorn, but horns nonetheless—polled Herefords are bred to be hornless. But you’re right. There is a commonality between beef and balloting. The word “poll” comes from a Middle English term meaning “head,” and in electioneering, polling means, almost literally, to count heads. From 1902 to 1966, in a move by wealthy whites to keep poorer folks, especially minorities, from affecting the outcome of elections, every Texan had to pay a “poll tax” in order to get a vote. (By the way, according to most of the ranchers I polled, Herefords nearly always go Libertarian.)