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Outlaws: Dr. John R. Brinkley

The greatest medical charlatan of them all and his empire of fraud in Del Rio
Written by T. Lindsay Baker.

Dr. Brinkley standing at the right of a patient. (Photo courtesy of Kansas State Historical Society)

Born in North Carolina in 1885, Brinkley attended a legitimate medical school in Chicago before dropping out and “finishing” his degree at the Eclectic Medical School of Kansas City. In 1917, he settled in the town of Milford; after a few months, a young farmer came to Dr. Brinkley lamenting that he had been unable to father another child, then the conversation drifted to farming, rams, and buck goats. Brinkley reportedly joked to his patient that “you wouldn’t have any trouble if you had a pair of those buck glands in you.” The farmer unexpectedly responded, “Well, why don’t you put ’em in?” A year after Brinkley implanted slivers of goat testicles in his patient’s scrotum, the farmer and his wife became parents of a healthy son.

Dr. Brinkley expanded his practice to include a hospital, behind which stood 
a corral filled with billy goats. He promoted his operation as curing not only male sexual dysfunction but also afflictions such as high blood pressure, epilepsy, diabetes, senility, obesity, and dementia. To reach distant audiences, Brinkley secured a license for a new AM radio station, and found avid listeners for his monologues 
on child care, hygiene, and procreation. “All energy is sex energy,” he proclaimed.

Dr. John L. Brinkley (Photo courtesy of Whitead Memorial Museum, Del Rio)

As early as 1928, the American Medical Association began monitoring Brinkley’s activities. Two years later, the organization singled him out as “reeking with charlatanism of the crudest type.” The Federal Radio Commission chose in June 1930 not to renew Brinkley’s broadcasting license, then the Kansas Medical Board withdrew Brinkley’s license to practice medicine within the state. He began looking for new fields. He decided that if the U.S. government had taken away his radio license, he would move outside the country and beam his messages back. “Radio waves pay no attention to lines on a map,” he quipped.

Authorities in Del Rio and Villa Acuña, across the Rio Grande, invited the flamboyant physician to relocate, with the Mexicans offering a 10-acre site for a broadcasting station at no cost.

Dr. Brinkley made the six-story, air-conditioned Roswell Hotel his Del Rio medical headquarters.  In addition to 
attracting patients to the hospital, Brinkley and his advertisers used the broadcasts to sell everything from tomato 
plants to Last Supper tablecloths.

Brinkley’s broadcasting power grew in stages until late 1935, when XERA’s strength reached an incredible 1 million watts. Brinkley’s on-air lectures on bloating, fistulae, and enlarged prostates could be heard all across the Great Plains to Canada and at times on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

When the end came for Dr. Brinkley, 
it came quickly. In 1941, Brinkley declared bankruptcy, a newly elected Mexican president expropriated station XERA, and Brinkley developed a blood clot in his left leg, which led to gangrene and the removal of the limb. While he convalesced, federal marshals served Brinkley with a warrant charging him with mail fraud. He never went to trial. On May 26, 1942, the old goat gland doctor met his Maker.

For information on sites related to Brinkley 
in Del Rio, see Gangster Tour of Texas, and contact the 
Del Rio Chamber of Commerce, 830/775-3551. 

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