John Richard Brinkley was the son of William Brinkley, a captain of the First Regiment of North Carolina Troops during the Revolutionary War and the Brinkley’s settled in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina when the war was over. John was a mountain doctor, which meant that he probably studied under a licensed doctor for a little bit and then opened up his own practice and treated the poor mountain folk in the area. John Richard Brinkley got married several times during his life. His first marriage was annulled because he was underage. He had two daughters with his first legal wife, Sally, and when Sally died of tuberculosis, so then he married his second wife Sarah, who also died of tuberculosis, just like his third wife Mary and fourth wife Fanny. After Fanny died, John served as a medic for the Confederacy during the Civil War. He was wounded twice during the war, but survived. After the Civil War ended, John met Sarah Mingus in 1870 when he was 42 years old. Sarah Mingus’s very attractive 24 year old niece named Sarah Burnett came to live with John and Sarah Mingus. They changed the nieces name to Sally so they could stop confusing the two Sarahs. On July 8, 1885, Sally gave birth to a baby boy that she named John Romulus Brinkley. She named him ‘John’ after his father and ‘Romulus’ after one of the brothers that had founded Rome. When John was around 5, his mother got pneumonia and then tuberculosis. She figured she didn’t have long to live, so she tried to teach little John all she could before she died. She made sure that he had good table manners and memorized the Lord’s prayer. John was by her bedside when she died. Right before dying, she told John that an angel had come to her in a dream and said that her aunt would raise up John and that he would be a great and useful man and then she died. John went to go live with his dad and Aunt. When John was 10, his father the older John, became very sick with chest pains and died shortly after. John vowed that he would become a doctor like his father so that he could heal people and keep them from dying. John stayed with his aunt and attended a school that was a one-room log house that didn’t give out high school diplomas. By this time, so called doctors that had only became a doctor by “reading medicine” with a doctor wasn’t acceptable anymore. If John wanted to be a doctor, he’d actually have to attend medical school, which was very expensive. So he became a mail carrier and taught himself how to use a telegraph. John then left North Carolina for New York City where he informed the manager at the Western Union headquarters that he was the best telegrapher in the world. Western Union offered him a job which had him travelling and living in different cities across the Eastern United States. In 1906, John got a letter that said his Aunt wasn’t doing well, so he returned home to see her and got a job transfer to a town called Bryson City so he could be closer to her. John’s aunt died on Christmas Day in 1906 and John had her buried next to his father. At her funeral, a 22 year old woman named Sally Wike that used to bully John when they were in school together, came up to John and comforted him. They hung out and John told Sally all about his travels and dreams of becoming a doctor. John seemed so different than the men that were still in their small town of Sylva, North Carolina. They got married on January 27, 1907. John and Sally started travelling the country in a medicine show, John as a Quaker doctor and Sally as his assistant. John was dressed in striped trousers and they would sing and dance while they touted a new tonic to the townspeople. They
would also sell books and pamphlets on medical advice, quote the Bible a lot, and talk about how traditional doctors were failing their patients by focusing on profits instead of actually healing their patients and not being open to new medical discoveries. When John and Sally’s daughter Wendy was born on November 5, 1907, they were in Chicago and living in a basement. John decided that this life wasn’t enough for him and still wanted to be a doctor. He started looking into Bennet Medical College, which is now the medical school at Loyola University. Bennet Medical College was an eclectic medical school which focused on herbal medicines. John met with Dr. John Dill Robertson, who was the president of the college. Dr. Robertson had once been a telegraph operator like John, so they hit it off with that in common. Dr. Robertson explained the tuition fees and how the school worked to John, but he didn’t tell him that because Bennet Medical College was an eclectic medical school, the AMA refused to recognize the medical degrees they gave out. John borrowed the $25 needed to enroll and had to appear before a deputy examiner to pass high school subject tests since he never received a high school diploma. He then started school, going to classes from 8 am to 5 pm and then working for Western Union from 5:30 pm until 1 am. While going to school, John and Sally had a son, but he only lived for three days. John was also going into huge debt trying to support a family and pay for medical school tuition. At the end of his second year of school, he picked up a second shift with Western Union. One day he came home and found that Sally had taken their daughter Wendy and all of their money and left him with nothing except for $1.10. Sally filed for a divorce and asked for alimony and child support. Sally got a job and would leave Wanda with her sister while she was at work. One day while Sally was at work, John got Wanda from Sally’s sister and got on a train headed for Montreal. Canada wouldn’t extradite a father for taking his own child, so Sally was forced to stop the divorce and get back together with John. It didn’t last though and Sally left him again a year later. She went back to North Carolina where she gave birth to their second daughter Erna on July 11, 1911. John asked the North Carolina State Board of Medical Examiners if he could work in North Carolina as an undergraduate physician for the summer of 1911 so he could be with his family and he was given permission to do so by the board. So John bought a used medical kit and then left Chicago for North Carolina. John’s first surgery was a foot amputation where a young man had cut his foot while working at a sawmill and John basically just had to finish cutting it off. Sally and John got back together and moved to Jacksonville, Florida after hearing about how great it was from a friend. Sally and John stayed there for a little bit, but they kept moving and breaking up and getting back together. John tried to enroll at different medical schools so he could finish his studies and receive his medical degree, but because he never paid all of his tuition at Bennet, they refused to forward his transcripts. John and Sally welcomed another daughter in 1913. Sally told John that he needed to give up his dream of being a doctor and actually support his family, or she was going to divorce him. John refused to not become a doctor, so Sally divorced John and married another guy named John from Princeton, Illinois. John went to Knoxville, Tennessee and started to practice medicine using his undergraduate license under Dr. Burke, who also didn’t have a medical license. Dr. Burke did own a chain of medical offices in the area that concentrated on treating syphilis and gonorrhea. John’s job was to scare people with
stories about what would happen to them if they left their disease untreated so that they would get treated by Dr. Burke. After working with Dr. Burke for a while, he went back to Chicago and met a salesman named James E. Crawford. John and Crawford then opened up a medical office in Greenville, South Carolina that was above a shoe store. Their sign read “Greenville Electro Medic Doctors” and they started putting advertisements in the local paper that said “Are you a manly man full of vigor?” If any men called asking how to be more of a manly man full of vigor, Crawford, who had started calling himself Dr. Burke, would interview them and then John, who was calling himself Dr. Brinkley, would treat them with shots of salvarsan, a medicine create for treating venereal diseases. They charged men $25 for a shot in the butt even though the salvarsan they were using was really just colored water in a syringe. After running this scam for about two months, they both got nervous that they were going to be found out, so that left town and left everything including their clothes and medical supplies. They then went to Memphis since Crawford had lived there before and he called up a couple of the girls he used to know. One of those girls was Minerva (Minnie) Telitha Jones. Minnie was the daughter of a real doctor and part of an old and respected family in the Memphis area. John and Minnie got married a few days after meeting on August 23, 1913 at the Peabody Hotel. Minnie’s parents thought that John was great and Minnie and John left on a long honeymoon using the money that he had made in Greensville. They spent two weeks in Kansas City, a week in Denver, and three weeks in Pocatello, Idaho. When Minnie and John got back to Tennessee, John was arrested and extradited to South Carolina for check fraud and for practicing medicine without a license. John immediately ratted out Crawford, who was still in Pocatello, and he was soon brought to South Carolina as well. Minnie’s father was able to get John out of jail and helped pay his creditors. After that, John started practicing medicine with his undergraduate license in Judsonia, Arkansas. A few months later, a doctor in Earle, Arkansas was moving to Connecticut and John took over his practice in Arkansas. After taking over the office, John received a brochure from the Eclectic Medical University of Kansas City. John wrote the university and explained how took three years of classes at Bennett and was hoping that he could take his fourth year and graduate from their program. The school wrote back and said as long as he forwarded his transcripts and paid $100 for tuition, he could enroll. So John finally paid off his tuition debt at Bennett, paid the $100 to Eclectic Medical University and moved to Kansas City with Minnie. It seems like the Eclectic Medical University would give anyone who paid the $100 tuition fee a diploma and John graduated in May 1915. John and Minnie moved back to Tennessee where Minnie’s father wanted John to join his practice, but John wasn’t interested. He had always wanted to specialize the prostate and was going to keep looking for the perfect position. He went to Kansas to look for a job and got a job working for a packing company in Kansas City until he could get hired as a doctor. Even though he didn’t work with the animals, he used his free time to study the diseases of the animals and their glands. When he asked the meat inspectors which animals were the healthiest, they said it was for sure the goat, no questions. John finally got a job as a physician in Fulton, Kansas. Some of his first patients were an old couple. John’s favorite saying was “an old stovepipe won’t draw if it isn’t cleaned out” and he prescribed them prescriptions for constipation, liver problems, and kidney flushing. The old couple loved John and told everybody about how much better they felt after they were cleaned out. John started getting all kinds of patients and became a staple in the community. When the Fulton mayor’s cat ate John’s pet canary, John shot the cat.
The mayor then started writing columns in the local paper he owned attacking John, so John decided to run for mayor with the slogan “Clean Up, Clean Out, Keep Clean.” John won by a huge margin and the previous mayor sold his newspaper and left Fulton. John had joined the army reserves and when the United States entered World War I, John was activated and sent to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. After serving for two days, higher ups placed John under observation for a nervous breakdown at the hospital in Fort Bliss and then discharged him a month later. After being discharged, John took a position in Milford, Kansas. They set up a drugstore there where John set up his office and Minnie ran the drugstore. Less than two weeks after setting up the drugstore, a man walked into John’s office and told him about his problems. He and his wife had a teenager and they had been trying for another child, but he said there was no pep, it was just a flat tire. That’s when John brought up his memories of the goats at the packing plant and said “you wouldn’t have any trouble if you had a pair of those buck glands in you.” And the man responded “Well, why don’t you put ‘em in?” John warned him that he could die, but the guy said go ahead, I’ll take the risk. That’s when John said that he didn’t have a goat, and the guy said “I raise ‘em. I’ll furnish the goat. You do the operation.” So the man went and got the goat and brought it into the drugstore late at night. John took the balls out of the goat and put them into the man’s ballsack and sewed him back up. Two weeks later, the man was back with a check for $150 for John and said that he would have made it a larger amount if he could have afforded it. Even though John had wanted to keep this surgery private, the man obviously told people because soon another man came into the drugstore with same problem and asking for the same surgery. That man got the surgery and he felt that it went so well that he brought his wife in to get a goat ovary put into her and John agreed to try the surgery. A year later, the couple had a healthy baby boy that they named Billy. John started to become known as the “Milford Messiah”. Men would check into John’s office and then be escorted to the back of the building where they could choose which goat’s balls they wanted inserted into themselves. Then the billy was castrated and the testicles were placed into the man’s scrotum through a slit cut into the scrotum. John soon found out that unless he used Nibians, Saanans, or Toggenbergs, the men who had billy goat ball transfers started to smell like billy goats. He charged each patient $500 an operation and then would send the men home with a bottle of ‘Prescription 1020’, Dr. John Brinkley’s own concoction. The prescription was just a bottle of colored water that was markup 9,200 percent. Then Minnie got a small inheritance from some relatives and they used the money to build the Brinkley-Jones Hospital and Training School for Nurses in the middle of town. Minnie soon became a graduate of the school and even signed her own diploma as the vice president of the school. The hospital/school was three stories and could hold sixteen patients and had a pen for the goats just outside. John thought about starting a zoo near the hospital as well and bought a bear. He put the bear in a cage next to the hospital and the kids would stop to look at it on their way to school. One night, the bear started growling and making too much noise, which annoyed John and he went out and shot the bear. That was the end of the zoo. In 1926, John sponsored a baseball team that was then named the Brinkley goats. Their jerseys had
goats on them and the goats had the words “Dr. Brinkley” on them. Brinkley decided to expand his knowledge and went to Chicago to take a surgery class under Dr. Max Thorek. However, John developed a drinking problem and failed the course. Despite failing the course, John and his surgery remained popular and they had some big clients. John was the doctor for the wife of William Jennings Bryan, the secretary of state. Bryan asked John to come to Washington D.C. to perform his goat operation on President Woodrow Wilson. But since John would have to ride on a train with his goats into D.C., there was no way they could keep it a secret and be subtle and the operation was called off. John was then invited to lecture on his special operation at the Kansas City College of Medicine and Surgery. While he was there, he got a phone call that Minnie had been arrested for selling alcohol to a dentist and the dentist got hammered. John rushed home and took the fall for Minnie by pleading guilty to three cases of bootlegging. He was fined $100 and sentenced two years of probation. Despite that being Minnie’s fault, John was getting a reputation as a violent drunk around town. There were stories of him chopping a person’s tire up with an axe and chasing patients out of his hospital while holding a butcher knife. Another doctor that worked at John’s hospital, Dr. Horatio Dwight Osborn, only had one ear and many blamed John. Many in town believed that John had bitten it off during an argument and another story was that he was just trying to calm John down and John sliced off his ear with a knife. In order to expand his reach and better his reputation, John paid for public relation managers to create ads for him and his goat gonad surgery. Harry Chandler, the owner of the Los Angeles Times, heard about John and his operation and invited John to come to LA and operate on him and some of his editors. John said that he would love to, but he didn’t have a California medical license. Chandler was able to pull some strings and the California State Medical Board gave John a 30 day permit to practice medicine in California. So John and Minnie went to LA and John started doing the operations. Chandler was very impressed with the results and gave it a ton of publicity. John decided to increase the price of his operation to $750 and up to $2,000 to use human gonads from prisoners on death row instead of goat testicles. Then the Los Angeles Record ran an advertisement with Billy, the first goat gland baby and there was a movie all about the “rejuvenation through gland transplanting.” John started to get movie stars coming to him for the operation and he made $40,000 while he was in LA. With his new found popularity, jokes about him and his operation started going around too like “What is the fastest four-legged animal in the world? A billy goat going past the Brinkley hospital.” By this time Brinkley was doing about 50 goat surgeries a month. Sources: “Nuts!: A Questionable Cure for Impotence” by Evan Kindley “John R. Brinkley Got Rich On Glandular Gullibility” by Peter Carlson “Crafty Crooks & Conmen” by Nigel Blundell and Sue Blackhall “The Bizarre Careers of John R. Brinkley” by R. Alton Lee “Charlatan: America’s Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam” by Pope Brock