The Old-Time Herald Volume 11, Number 7

Feature
Goat Glands and String Bands: Dr. John Brinkley
By David Holt
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Minnie and Dr. John Brinkley preparing a goat gland operation at their hospital in Milford, Kansas. Kansas State Historical Society
 

What do the Carter family, the Nazis, the FCC, the AMA, 12 million Depression dollars, goat glands, country music radio, rock and roll, and 16,000 pairs of gentlemen’s testicles have in common? The answer is Dr. John R. Brinkley.
One day in the fall of 1918, in Milford, Kansas, a forty-six-year-old farmer named Bill Stittsworth came to see Doctor John Brinkley with a problem.  Stittsworth said he had lost his vigor and didn’t have any “lead in his pencil, no powder in his pistol.” The farmer looked out the window, and watching the frisky billy goats, said, "Too bad I don't have a billy goat’s glands."  He said, “Doctor, I want you to transplant them into me.”

A few days later Stittsworth returned to the clinic ready for the operation. Dr. Brinkley entered the operating room with his mask, rubber gloves, white gown, and a small tray with two goat testicles in the center. After the man was anesthetized, the Doctor cut a small plug from the fresh goat gonads and inserted it in a hole made in the man’s testicles.
When the farmer healed up he reported that “his pencil was full of lead…frisky again.”  Nine months later, Stittsworth and his wife were thrilled to have a son, whom they appropriately named Billy.


The Doctor is in


No one was more delighted than Dr. Brinkley. Quick to realize he had a potential financial bonanza, Brinkley hired a publicist and built an ad campaign around “Billy,” his wondrous new operation, and the great doctor himself.
But Dr. Brinkley wasn’t a real doctor.
He had been brought up poor in the mountains of Jackson County, North Carolina, near Cullowhee.  Born July 8, 1885, he went to live with his Aunt Sally when his parents died. He left home, married a local girl named Sally Wike, and became a snake-oil huckster in a traveling medicine show.
It was in the medicine show that Brinkley realized the value music had in getting and holding an audience. As musicians playing traditional mountain music drew in the crowd, Brinkley would play the part of a doctor and make the pitch for his alcohol-based remedy. It was here Brinkley learned his smooth patter, which folks said could charm a wagon out of ditch.

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