John Brinkley: The Doctor Who Transplanted Goat Testicles Into Humans

Nov 11, 2021 0 comments

The morning of September 15, 1930, was undeniably warm in Kansas. That summer had been the hottest ever recorded in the state. The heat had turned crops of corn into shriveled stalks and cracked earth stretched in all directions, with nothing growing to speak of but a few thin cottonwood trees. Enduring the heat, a team of delegates from the Kansas State Medical Board along with more than twenty colleagues and reporters, made a long and unpleasant journey from Kansas City to the sketchy little town of Milford on the banks of the Republican River. The delegates were there for a demonstration organized by Dr. John Brinkley, who was known as the “goat-gland doctor” for reasons that would soon become apparent. The members of the state medical board along with members of the press and other observing surgeons then squeezed themselves into a tiny operating room leaving enough room for Dr. Brinkley, his staff and the surprisingly calm patient who lay awake on the operating table. After the usual formalities were exchanged, the show began.

John Brinkley and his staff in the middle of an operation

John Brinkley and his staff in the middle of an operation. Photo: Kansas State Historical Society

The patient, who was introduced only as Mr. X, was administered a local anesthetic on his hip by Mrs. Brinkley. Then an orderly brought up a goat from the basement. This goat was about 3 to 4 weeks old, a male, and personally chosen by Mr. X for the operation, Dr. Brinkley explained.

The distressed animal was placed on a side table and an orderly held the goat’s head. Mrs. Brinkley rubbed an antiseptic solution on the goats underbelly, and before the goat could say baa, the doctor’s wife had produced a small pair of scissors and swiftly snipped off the goat’s testicles.

The freshly cut testicles were transferred onto a piece of gauge and handed over to Dr. Brinkley, who at once set to work. Taking a scalpel, the doctor first make twin incisions in the patient’s scrotum, and through the open slits slid the goat testis, one on each side, and then sutured it to the loose tissue.

After a full forty-five minutes of tense labor, the doctor announced the operation a success. Beaming with pride, Dr. Brinkley addressed the assembled guests: “If any of you gentlemen have patients that you feel need attention of this kind, we will be glad to handle them here.”

The members of the Kansas State Medical Board thanked him and took their leave. Forty-eight hours later they unanimously revoked his license to practice on grounds of “gross immorality and unprofessional conduct.” Dr. Brinkley filed an appeal, but the Kansas Supreme Court threw it out. In the statement, the court accused Dr. Brinkley of “being an empiric without moral sense”. The statement read: “Having acted according to the ethical standards of an imposter, the licensee has perfected an organized charlatanism…quite beyond the invention of the humble mountebank.”

Who was Dr. Brinkley?

John Brinkley

John Brinkley was born in 1885 in the tiny community of Beta, a few miles outside Sylva, in North Carolina. His father, also named John, was a poor mountain man who practiced medicine and served as a medic for the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War. After finishing school at the age of 16, Brinkley began to work as a mail carrier and later as a telegraph operator. However, he always wished to become a doctor. As a boy he devoured home health books and his uncle’s materia medica. He even joined a travelling medical show selling patent medicine and hawking virility tonics.

In 1908, Brinkley moved to Chicago with his wife, and got enrolled at Bennett Medical College, an unaccredited school with questionable curricula focused on eclectic medicine. At school, Brinkley learned about glandular extracts and their effects on the human system. He determined that this new field would help move his career forward. After three years of medical school, Brinkley was forced to quit because of unpaid tuition fees. For a while, he began working as an “undergraduate physician”, but failed to establish himself. Unable to procure a medical degree, Brinkley bought a certificate from a shady diploma mill known as the Kansas City Eclectic Medical University. Shortly thereafter, Brinkley moved to Greenville, and together with another conman named James E. Crawford, set up a fraudulent medicine shop selling snake oil to men concerned about their manly vigor. For $25 a shot, the two injected colored water into their patients telling them it was “electric medicine from Germany.” After two months, the partners abandoned their business and left town hurriedly with unpaid rent, utility bills and debts. For this, Brinkley and Crawford was arrested and the two paid several thousand dollars to Greenville's angry merchants as settlement.

John Brinkley then moved to Judsonia, Arkansas, where he obtained a spurious license to practice medicine, advertising his specialty as “diseases of women and children”. He joined the Army Reserve Medical Corps. The salary from this position allowed him to pay Bennett Medical University the amount owed for tuition. Then he enrolled at that city's Eclectic Medical University to finish out his last year remaining of the education he started at Bennett. Back in Kansas City, Brinkley took a job as a doctor for the Swift and Company plant, patching minor wounds and studying animal physiology. It was here that Brinkley learned that popular opinion held that the healthiest animal slaughtered at the plant was the goat, something that would prove pivotal to his later medical career.

Toggenburg goats,

Toggenburg goats, the breed used by Dr. John R. Brinkley for his goat-gland transplantations. Photo: Brandt Bolding |

In 1917, Brinkley moved to Milford in Kansas and opened a 16-room clinic. His service to the local community during the deadly outbreak of the 1918 flu pandemic is remembered fondly by generations. But it was as a surgeon that Brinkley achieved both fame and fortune. According to his own testimony, Brinkley got into the business by sheer luck.

One day in 1918, a farmer named Bill Stittsworth dropped into his office complaining of “sexual weakness.” Brinkley responded by joking that perhaps he could give him “a pair of those buck glands” and then he would be cured. According to Brinkley, Stittworth then begged the doctor to try the operation. The Stittsworth’s family’s version is that it was Brinkley who offered the farmer money, hundreds of dollars, to submit to the experiment. Either way, the operation was a success. Word spread and soon people started flocking into the clinic for a new pair of goat testicles. He also operated upon women, giving them goat ovaries. His former patients wrote to him reporting an “astonishing sexual vigor” whose details “cannot be more than hinted at.” One of his patients, Charley Tasine, even fathered a child, appropriately named Billy. Eventually, Brinkley began promoting goat glands as a cure for 27 ailments, ranging from dementia to emphysema to flatulence. By then, Brinkley was conducting up to forty operations a week at $750 a pop. An Arkansas supplier delivered regular shipments of goats which the doctor kept them in a pen behind the clinic. Each client was invited to browse the herd and choose the most agreeable.

The town of Milford too gained from Brinkley’s success. Brinkley funded new sidewalks, a new municipal sewer system, a new post office, and new uniforms for the Little League team, now called the Brinkley Goats. He gave the town electric lights and a new bank. He paved the two-mile road to the railroad station, and tried but failed to start a zoo.

John Brinkley and his wife Minerva Telitha "Minnie" Jones.

John Brinkley and his wife Minerva Telitha "Minnie" Jones.

In 1923, Brinkley built his own radio station to promote his services. Brinkley spoke for hours on end each day on the radio, promoting his goat gland treatments. He variously cajoled, shamed and appealed to men's and women's egos, and to their desire to be more sexually active. In between Brinkley's own advertisements, his new station featured a variety of entertainment including military bands, French lessons, astrological forecasts, storytelling and exotica such as native Hawaiian songs, and Christian gospels.

Despite Brinkley’s meteoric rise in publicity, not all of his operations ended in success. Brinkley himself advertised a 95 percent success rate. Some of his patients suffered from infection, and an undetermined number died. In 1930, the Kansas State Medical Board revoked his license. Six months later, Brinkley lost his radio license.

After losing his medical and broadcast licenses, Brinkley tried his luck in politics, submitting his candidature to the post of the Governor of Kansas. He received nearly one third of all votes, but still lost. Brinkley ran again in 1932 as an Independent, and lost, and then lost again in 1934 for governor.

Brinkley then moved to Del Rio, Texas, and obtained from the Mexican government a 50,000-watt radio license which was later increased to one million watts making it one of the most powerful radio station on the planet. On a clear night, Brinkley’s voice could be heard as far away as Canada. According to accounts of the time, the signal was so strong that it turned on car headlights, made bedsprings hum, and caused broadcasts to bleed into telephone conversations. In 1934, under pressure from the United States, Mexico revoked Brinkley's broadcast license.

Despite losing the license to practice, Brinkley continued to perform the occasional goat gland transplant, as well as vasectomies and prostate “rejuvenations”, for which he charged up to $1,000 per operation. His business, fueled by radio advertisements and speeches, continued to thrive, and he opened another clinic in San Juan, Texas, specializing in the colon. By 1936, Brinkley had amassed enough wealth to build a mansion for himself and his wife on 16 acres of land. He boasted a stable of a dozen Cadillacs, a greenhouse, a foaming fountain garden surrounded by 8,000 bushes, exotic animals imported from the Galapagos Islands, and a swimming pool with a 10-foot diving tower.

In 1939, Brinkley filed a libel suit against the American Medical Association and Morris Fishbein who had denounced his practice and exposed his questionable medical credentials. The jury decided against Brinkley stating that Brinkley “should be considered a charlatan and a quack in the ordinary, well-understood meaning of those words.” The jury’s verdict unleashed a barrage of lawsuits against Brinkley, by some estimates well over $3 million in total value. Two years later, he declared bankruptcy.

Soon after the U.S. Post Office Department began investigating him for mail fraud, and this took a toll on his health. He suffered three heart attacks, and a blood clot formed in one of his legs leading to amputation. On May 26, 1942, Brinkley died of heart failure in San Antonio. He was later buried at Forest Hill Cemetery in Memphis, Tennessee.

# “John R. Brinkley”, Wikipedia
# Pope Brock, “Charlatan: America's Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam”
# Frank Wardlaw, “The Goat-Gland Man”, Southwest Review


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