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Clay Coppedge
Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

The Border Blasting
Goat Gland Doctor

by Clay Coppedge

Dr. John Romulus Brinkley wasn't a real doctor, but he played one on the radio. His father served as a competent and respected country doctor in the mountains of western North Carolina, but John left home with a strong desire to be something more than that. He expected to someday see his name listed on the same page as Pasteur, Currie and Hippocrates-at the top of the list.

Though he never finished school in North Carolina, Brinkley put himself through a series of diploma mills such as 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, which granted him a diploma that allowed him to acquire a medical license in Arkansas that was also recognized in Tennessee, Missouri, Connecticut and Texas.

Brinkley stumbled onto his big idea after Swift and Company in Kansas City hired him to stitch up animal cuts, and he began asking people at the plant to name the healthiest animal slaughtered there. The nearly unanimous answer? Goats. He took the consensus with him to the tiny hamlet of Milford, Kansas, where he helped see the town through a nasty flu epidemic, all the while maintaining an easy, down-home manner that his patients trusted.

A conversation with one of those patients, a middle-aged farmer, had long-term consequences for both men. The farmer told the doc he was "sexually weak" and unable to sire any more children. Brinkley nodded in sympathy and told the farmer about previous cases he'd treated with "serums, medicines and electricity" to no avail. The conversation drifted to this and that but soon returned to the farmer's sexual woes. Brinkley told him, "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, the farmer insisted that Brinkley operate on him right away and fix him up with a pair of those goat glands. He did. Less than a year later, the farmer's wife gave birth to a healthy baby boy. The couple, naturally, named him Billy. Billy later told a Kansas City newspaper that Brinkley promised to pay his father a handsome sum for his cooperation.

Regardless of how it happened, that first operation led to many more. With the help of a publicist, Brinkley's miracle treatment for sagging libidos turned him and his remedies into hot properties. Brinkley built the first radio station in Kansas, KFRB, and broadcast country music, fundamentalist preaching and a promise to put some lead in the ol' pencil. His message swept the region and made Brinkley richer than any country doctor should ever expect to be.

But there was a problem. The American Medical Association looked askance at Brinkley's claims and convinced the Kansas State Medical Board to revoke his medical license and the Federal Radio Commission to take him off the airwaves.

Brinkley ran for governor of Kansas and almost won, but when he didn't he packed up and moved to Del Rio, Texas, and started a radio station, XERA, just across the Mexican border in Villa Acuna, Mexico, where the U.S. government couldn't mess with him. XERA utilized transmitters powerful enough to blast music and advertising all across America with most of the promotions devoted to Brinkley's clinic and its sundry patented potions, including a "commercial glandular preparation" that made the expensive surgery unnecessary.

Estimates of Brinkley's earnings between 1933 and 1938, during the heart of the Great Depression, are in the $12 million range. But it didn't last. He lost a libel suit against the American Medical Association that opened the door to dozens of other lawsuits and loads of bad publicity. The IRS filed against him for back taxes, and the Mexican government shut down his radio station. He was bankrupt by 1941, dead a year later.
Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" January 18 , 2019 column

Clay Coppedge's "Letters from Central Texas"

  • Peg Leg Stage Robberies 2-2-19
  • The Rubbing Doctors 1-18-19
  • Too Full of Alabama 12-30-18
  • Who Was That Masked Man? 12-15-18
  • Tasty Texas Ingenuity 12-2-18

    See more »
  • Clay Coppedge's "Letters from Central Texas"

  • Peg Leg Stage Robberies 2-2-19
  • The Rubbing Doctors 1-18-19
  • Too Full of Alabama 12-30-18
  • Who Was That Masked Man? 12-15-18
  • Tasty Texas Ingenuity 12-2-18

    See more »


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