There are very few topics with an ability to draw in the attention of individuals with wildly divergent politics, differing ages, or any number of self identifying qualifiers that separate us from one another. There is something out there that seems to have the ability to, if nothing else, garner the curiosity of the majority, and that is storytelling about the most flagrantly bizarre of those who have walked the earth. Everyone may derive a differing end analysis of what that individual’s life meant and what it signified on a grander scale, but the fact is undeniable that we love a tale about a weirdo.
Join me as we take a quick look at perhaps one of the most tantalizingly strange characters of the last century, that of the Goat Gland Doctor of Kansas (yes, I did use promiscuous capitalization for that title and I’d do it again).
John Romulus Brinkley was not a medical doctor in the sense that he had a degree from a well established institution of learning, that he was board certified by some level of talented and wise peers—no, his degree came from an institution called “The Eclectic Medical University”. I suspect he didn’t cut the muster for the Manic Pixie Girlfriend School of Engineering so what was he to do? This was his lot so he did with it what one motivated and energetic capitalist man in early 1900’s America does with that degree. He becomes a millionaire by placing goat testicles in impotent men, starts a radio station across the Mexican border with…..hand at my chin, stroking…..one million watts, and basically won an election for governor of the state of Kansas.
Brinkley and his 2nd wife Minnie (because of course there’s an abandoned first family in his CV) head to tiny Milford, Kansas in 1918 (the place now unceremoniously resides at the bottom of created Milford Lake). The town misrepresented itself as something larger and more cosmopolitan in their recruitment campaign for a physician. Minnie is said to have cried in despair when they arrived in the dusty hamlet. This did not deter young J.R.—he recalled that goats were easy to raise and men were easy to fool. It was kismet to bring the two together.
Brinkley started inserting goat testicles into men suffering from impotence Brinkley guaranteed the return of virility through this procedure, even claiming he was innervating and connecting blood supply to the imported glands. In fact he was just dumping the foreign tissue into the men’s scrotal sac and stitching it back together. Of course there were infections and deaths, but this didn’t stop Brinkley from making a small fortune, even into the depression years. In the very worthwhile book Charlatan: America’s Most Dangerous Huckster, The Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam by Pope Brock, the author indicates that the depression had an emasculating effect on the men of the time and even worked in Brinkley’s favor. Men with a diminishing sense of control in their lives due to the depression still found an ability to find funds to give Brinkley for the outrageous procedure.
But alas, Brinkley flew too close to the sun with his goat testicles when he took a trip to Southern California and fell in love with the place. He tried to obtain a medical license there so he could set up shop in the decidedly more fashionable locale, but the medical officials were warned about him and he was not able to obtain that California license. Too bad, you just know Ronald Reagan would’ve signed up and perhaps he’s have gone septic and died. Anyway, the California scrutiny led to Brinkley eventually losing his license in Kansas, but not before becoming one of the most famous “doctors” of the time and possibly putting a goat testicle in your grandpa.
As if this isn’t enough sheer freakery, Brinkley dabbled, and then plunged into radio station ownership. At one time he had the most powerful station on earth. He used the station to (of course) sell his wares and his persona, but was also instrumental in introducing acts like the Carter family who did a bit of an internship at his station. Many country legends you’ve probably heard of got their start with Brinkley’s mass communicating.
At one point Brinkley lost a station because the Federal Radio Commission deemed that his KFKB was not in the public interest. They said it was only in his interest. Oh to have those rules in place now Murdoch! An excellent article from The Kansas Reflector https://
kansasreflector.com/2020/10/ 18/how-kansas-infamous-goat- gland-doctor-carved-a- political-path-for-donald- trump explores how Brinkley and his larger than life persona and grift was an important step towards the Trump phenomenon.
Before we close this out, it must also be mentioned that Brinkley won an election to be the Kansas governor. Of course he did, right? This guy is like an evil Forest Gump. But he didn’t get to be governor though. In a case of, the guy really was robbed, they changed the rules immediately prior to the vote count making write-ins that didn’t say exactly “J.R. Brinkley” not count. The voters who wrote in Dr. Brinkley etc. had their votes tossed out. It is clear from the numbers that he would have won without these last minute changes.
So there you have it; this has been a quick dip into the world of the amazing quack that was J.R. Brinkley. I would say it is a cautionary tale that illustrates the rewards of sociopathy and charm in the experiment that has been the United States, but more than that, it’s a fun tale about a fantastic weirdo.