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Texas Trails Oct. 14, 2022

published: October 14th 2022
by: Clay Coppedge
source: Southern Livestock Standard

The border blasting goat gland doctor

Dr. John Romulus Brinkley wasn’t a real doctor, but he played one on the radio. Raised as the son of a respected but poor country doctor in the mountains of western North Carolina, Brinkley was orphaned at age 10 and raised by an aunt. His education was sporadic and incomplete but Brinkley left home determined to follow in his father’s footsteps, though he apparently had no desire to be poor, respected, or even a real doctor.

He sold snake oil for a while, then teamed up with Chicago con man and all-around criminal James Crawford to establish the Greenville Electro Medical Doctors and charge patients $25 (a substantial sum in those days) for a shot of colored distilled water. Brinkley and Crawford founded the company on credit, and when the bills came due they skipped town.

Brinkley put himself through a series of diploma mills like the Bennett Eclectic Medical School in Chicago, the National University of Arts and Sciences in St. Louis, and the Eclectic Medical University in Kansas City. The latter institution granted him an undergraduate diploma (for $500) that allowed him to secure a medical license in Arkansas. Amazingly, that piece of paper also allowed him to practice medicine in Tennessee, Missouri, Connecticut, and Texas.

At the Swift and Company meat packing plant in Kansas City, where he was hired to stitch up animal cuts, he began asking people at the plant to name the healthiest animal slaughtered there. The nearly unanimous answer: goats.

Brinkley took this conviction with him to the tiny hamlet of Milford, Kansas, where he endeared himself to the locals by guiding them through a deadly flu epidemic and for a down-home easygoing manner that put his patients at ease.

One day a middle-aged farmer visited the doctor to complain that he was “sexually weak” and unable to sire any more children. Brinkley nodded in sympathy and talked about previous cases he’d treated with “serums, medicines, and electricity” but to no avail. The talk drifted here and there and back to farming and rams and buck goats. At one point Brinkley told the man, “You wouldn’t have any trouble if you had a pair of those buck glands in you!”

According to Brinkley’s official biography, which he financed and is about as reliable as his medical advice, nothing would do but that Brinkley perform the operation on him right away. He did. Less than a year later, the farmer’s wife gave birth to a healthy baby boy that the couple, naturally, named Billy. Billy would later tell a Kansas City newspaper that Brinkley had  promised to pay the farmer handsomely for his cooperation.

Regardless of how it happened, that first operation led to many more. With the help of a publicist, the story of Brinkley’s miracle cure for sagging libidos made headlines across the country. He built the first radio station in Kansas (KFRB) and broadcast country music and fundamentalist preaching. His message spread far and wide, and he became richer than any country doctor could ever expect to be.

But there was a problem. The American Medical Association looked askance at Brinkley’s claims and put enough pressure on his practice and radio station that the Kansas State Medical Board revoked his medical license and the Federal Radio Commission did the same thing with his broadcasting license.

After running for governor of Kansas, and narrowly losing, he packed up and moved to Texas, or Mexico, depending on one’s definition of residency, and built a powerful radio transmitter in Villa Acuna, Mexico, just across the Rio Grande from Del Rio. He used the station to advertise his clinic and sell any number of potions, including his “commercial glandular preparations” that made the expensive surgery unnecessary. In so doing, Brinkley established himself as the first of the “Border Blasters” that escaped U.S. regulations by setting up radio stations in Mexico with transmitters powerful enough to blast messages, music and advertising to the entire country.

Estimates of Brinkley’s earning between 1933 and 1938, during the heart of the Great Depression, are in the $12 million range. But it didn’t last. Brinkley lost a libel suit against the American Medical Association, which opened the door to a torrent of lawsuits and bad publicity. The IRS filed against him for back taxes and the Mexican government turned against him as well and shut down XERA.  Brinkley filed for bankruptcy in 1941 and made plans to become a preacher, but he died in San Antonio a year later of heart failure.

 

 

 

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