A 19th CENTURY WOMAN OF INFLUENCE

Jane McManus Storm Cazneau
Texas Historical Commission

Jane McManus Storm Cazneau was born in Troy, New York, in 1807. After a failed marriage and being named as Aaron Burr’s mistress in his divorce, she came to Texas in 1832 with her brother Robert McManus in an attempt to improve the family’s shrinking fortune. Although she received a contract to settle families in Stephen F. Austin’s colony, she apparently lacked the funds to get the enterprise off the ground. The German colonists that she landed in Matagorda refused to go farther inland, which ended that adventure. It was not, however, the end of Jane’s land speculation and her interest in the future of Texas. She was a prolific writer, and one of the causes she trumpeted in her columns for East Coast publications was Texas independence from Mexico. She also tried to sway U.S. public opinion in favor of annexing the Republic of Texas.

Linda Hudson’s autobiography of Jane Cazneau

During the Mexican-American War, Jane served as the first female war correspondent and the only journalist to issue reports from behind enemy lines. She was sent to Mexico as an unofficial representative of the New York Sun editor Moses Beach’s secret peace mission, which was endorsed by President James Polk. Her expansionist interests showed clearly as she began promoting the annexation of Mexico as a way to bring peace.

Jane married William Leslie Cazneau––Texas politician and entrepreneur––in 1849, and lived with him for a time in Eagle Pass, a town on the Rio Grande where Cazneau opened a trade depot and investigated mining potential in Mexico. Jane wrote of her experiences in Eagle Pass; or Life on the Border, and she continued to write editorials championing U.S. expansion.

William Cazneau was appointed as a special agent to the Dominican Republic in 1855, and the Cazneaus settled there on their estate, Esmeralda. Jane continued writing her columns and books that advocated her expansionist philosophy, and the couple invested heavily in property all over the Caribbean.

Some writers, including Linda Hudson, author of Jane’s biography, Mistress of Manifest Destiny, credit Jane with being the first writer to use the term “manifest destiny.” It has been difficult to trace her use of the term since her editorials were handwritten, often unsigned, and she also used the pen names Storm, Cora or Corinne Montgomery. Nevertheless, she was such a strong advocate of manifest destiny that she bought into the New York Morning Star in order to use the publication to editorialize for the expansion of the south and the spread of slavery into Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua. She was not in favor of the South seceding from the Union because she believed that the division would weaken the United States and slow its expansion. She also stood to lose on her land investments if slavery and its spread to the Caribbean came to an end.

Her influence was widespread; she socialized and corresponded with James Polk, James Buchanan, Jefferson Davis, and Horace Greeley. Former Republic of Texas President, Mirabeau B. Lamar dedicated his 1857 book of poems, Verse Memorials, to Jane Cazneau.

The Cazneaus fled to another of their properties in Jamaica in 1863 following the destruction of their estate after Spain returned to the Dominican Republic. However, when Spain left the island, the Cazneaus returned and assisted President Andrew Johnson in his efforts to acquire a coaling station at Samaná and President Grant’s effort to annex the Dominican Republic.

William Cazneau died in 1876, and two years later Jane, the woman who often used the pen name Storm, was lost in a storm while sailing from New York to Santo Domingo.

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SANTA ANNA: A PARADOX

Daguerreotype of Santa Anna.
Wikipedia

Some call his era the “Age of Santa Anna.” He was known as a brave soldier and a cunning politician. Over his forty-year career, he served multiple times as a general and eleven times as president of Mexico. He thought of himself as “the Napoleon of the West,” yet historians say he was among the many leaders of Mexico that failed the nation. His political endeavors and his military failures resulted in Mexico losing over half its territory in the American west, first to Texas after its revolution in 1836 and finally to the United States in 1848 after the Mexican-American War.

Antonio López de Santa Anna was born in 1794, the son of middle-class criollos (persons of Spanish descent born in the Americas) in the Spanish province of Veracruz.  His family had enough money to send him to school for a time, but at sixteen, he became a cadet in the Fijo de Veracruz infantry regiment. For five years he helped police Indian tribes and fought against insurgents, including filibusterers from the United States who were trying to free Texas from Spain. Many historians believe that this early period of Santa Anna’s military career shaped his ideas of how to put down rebellions through a fierce policy of mass executions, which he later used during the Texas War for Independence.

As a member of the Royalist army, the dashing young man, who used his charisma to charm acquaintances, fought for a while on the Spanish side as Mexico began its eleven-year war for independence from Spain. However, as he did throughout his military and political career, he realized his best interest lay in switching sides to join the rebel forces fighting for independence. All during the turbulent 1820s as coups ushered in first one and then another president, Santa Anna changed his allegiance to whoever was clawing his way to the top, quickly rising through the ranks while gaining the reputation as a valuable if treacherous ally.

In 1829 Santa Anna achieved what some claim was his greatest (and perhaps only) military victory when Spain made its last attempt to regain control of Mexico by invading Tampico. Santa Anna, who was good at stirring up emotions and quickly rounding up an army, led an expedition that defeated the Spanish force. The invading army was suffering from yellow fever, but the defeat was real and Santa Anna emerged as a national hero. Without hesitation, he branded himself “The Victor of Tampico” and “The Savior of the Motherland.” More coups followed, accompanied by presidential exiles and executions, until the new Congress of Mexico elected Santa Anna as president on April 1, 1833. Despite having run as a liberal, within a year Santa Anna claimed that the country was not ready for democracy. He dissolved Congress and centralized power, turning his regime into a dictatorship backed by the military.

Liberals all over Mexico felt betrayed and several states began to defy the new authority including citizens in Texas y Coahuila, which was the northernmost state in Mexico that would eventually become the Republic of Texas. The Texas settlers, who were mostly from the United States, had received generous land grants from the Mexican government and were demanding more fair treatment and the return to the original liberal terms they had received during colonization. Several open rebellions occurred along the Texas coast, at Nacogdoches, and finally at Goliad.

When citizens in Zacatecas also rose up in December 1835 in defiance of Santa Anna’s new authority, he moved quickly to crush the resistance and allowed his army to loot the town for forty-eight hours. Then he marched his army at top speed through winter cold to San Antonio where he raised the red flag of no quarter and demanded the surrender of the Texans, whom he called “land thieves.” The thirteen-day siege ended with the killing of all the inhabitants of the Alamo fortress except for some women, children, and slaves. The next demonstration of his intent to dominate the rebellious citizens occurred at Goliad when he ordered the execution of over 300 captives who had surrendered on the battlefield to General Urrea.  Despite Urrea’s letter requesting that the honorable surrender be recognized, Santa Anna sent word that they should be executed as pirates. On the morning of March 27, 1836, the prisoners who could walk, were marched in several groups away from the Goliad fort and shot. Those who had been injured in the battle were killed inside the compound. When word spread of the Massacre at Goliad, people who had thought of Santa Anna as cunning and crafty, realized that he was indeed cruel and the realization fueled an infusion of volunteers from the United States to help the Texans fight for independence.

Santa Anna continued to march eastward intending to kill or drive across the Sabine River all the Texas land thieves whom he held in such disdain. His amazing ability to hastily round up an army had never been tested at such long distances from the center of Mexican supplies or in the bitter cold and rain of that Texas spring. He did not have ample food or supplies for his men, and as he chased the rebels across Texas, his nemesis, General Sam Houston, had the towns burned and supplies destroyed as Texas settlers fled in terror before the advancing Mexican Army.

Oil on Canvass, Santa Anna displayed in Mexico City Museum.
Wikipedia

Still confident of his superior force and determined that his military skill would win the day, Santa Anna left half his force on the banks of the Brazos River as he raced eastward to catch the officials of the interim Texas government and then defeat the ragtag army of Texas volunteer farmers and merchants.

When the two armies finally met on the banks of Buffalo Bayou on April 21, 1836, Santa Anna grossly underestimated the fury and determination of the Texans to repay the Mexican Army for the slaughter at the Alamo and at Goliad. In fact, as the Mexican Army enjoyed its afternoon siesta, the Texans using two cannons that had only recently arrived from citizens of Cincinnati, Ohio, raced across less than two miles separating the camps and in an eighteen-minute battle defeated the startled Mexicans.  Despite their victory, the furious Texans continued killing the Mexicans until 630 lay dead and 730 were taken prisoner. The Texans lost nine.

Santa Anna was found the next day, dressed in peasant clothing and hiding in a marsh. When he was taken before General Houston and realized his life was to be spared, he boldly announced his willingness to treat with Houston regarding the boundaries of the two countries, a real turn-around from the day before when he planned to exterminate the pirates. Santa Anna signed the Treaty of Velasco agreeing to Texas independence, but the Mexican government, upon hearing of his

“Surrender of Santa Anna” William Henry Huddle
Wikipedia

loss of Texas, deposed him in absentia and did not recognize his authority to give up Texas.

Santa Anna was not finished. After a time of exile in the United States, he eventually made his way back to his estate in Veracruz. In December 1838 the French landed in Veracruz after the Mexican government refused to reimburse French citizens for their financial losses in Mexico. Ironically, the government gave Santa Anna command of an army with instructions to defend Mexico by any means necessary. In typical Santa Anna fashion, the assault failed, Mexico was forced to meet French demands, but Santa Anna managed to turn the disaster to his advantage. He had been hit by cannon fire in his leg and hand, and his leg had to be amputated. He returned to politics as a hero of the war, touting his sacrifice for the motherland. He even had his amputated leg buried with full military honors.

He served again as acting president the following year and helped overthrow the government in 1841 to become dictator for the next four years. During his reign, he sent military expeditions into the Republic of Texas, which convinced many Texans that annexation to the United States would give them powerful protection. However, his autocratic rule fomented so much resistance that he was forced to step down and was exiled to Cuba.

Santa Anna found another chance to return to Mexico with the United States annexation of Texas, which resulted in the Mexican-American War. He made a deal with President James Polk to allow him to enter Mexico through the United States naval blockade in exchange for getting a negotiated settlement of land for the United States. At the same time, he was making that deal, he was arranging with Mexico’s president to lead an army against the northern invaders. Reneging on both agreements, as head of the army, he marched to Mexico City and declared himself president. Again, his military prowess failed, and when the United States won victory with the capture of Mexico City, Santa Anna retired to exile in Jamaica. Mexico’s loss gained the United States more than 500,000 square miles––westward from the Rio Grande to the Pacific Coast.

It is hard to believe that even the conservatives, who wanted a central government under the control of the army and the Catholic Church, would invite Santa Anna back. But, that is what happened in April 1853. This time his administration was no more successful than before. He declared himself dictator for life, funneled government funds to himself, and sold more Mexican territory to the United States in the Gadsden Purchase.  His “Most Serene Highness,” as he called himself, finally became too powerful even for his conservative friends. A group of liberals, led by Benito Juárez, overthrew him and he fled again to Cuba. When the new government discovered the extent of Santa Anna’s corruption, he was tried in absentia for treason, and all his property was confiscated.

Santa Anna roamed from Cuba to Colombia, to St. Thomas and to Staten Island, New York, where he came up with the idea of selling chicle––the sap from the Mexican sapodilla tree––as an additive to natural rubber. He planned to use his new wealth to raise another army to take over Mexico City. To fulfill his scheme, he worked with Thomas Adams a photographer, glassmaker, and inventor, who may have served as Santa Anna’s secretary.

Adams bought one ton of chicle from Santa Anna and tried unsuccessfully for a year to use it to make carriage tires. Adams had observed Santa Anna chewing the chicle and began to experiment with the substance, eventually creating what became “Chiclets” chewing gum––a windfall from which Santa Anna failed to benefit.

Meantime, in 1874, after Mexico issued a general amnesty, Santa Anna returned, a crippled old man who was almost blind from cataracts. He had written his memoirs while in exile and spent the last two years of his life virtually ignored by the Mexican government. “The Napoleon of the West” died in Mexico City on June 21, 1876.

A Way Station on the Rio Grande

The Chihuahuan Desert hugging the Rio Grande in far West Texas was a killing field for Spanish explorers, Apaches, Comanches, white scalp hunters, and freighters daring to travel between San Antonio and Ciudad Chihuahua. Apache and Comanche raids into Mexico—killing

Fort Leaton State Historic Site

hundreds, stealing thousands of livestock and capturing women and children—resulted by 1835 in the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Sonora offering a bounty for scalps. The prices ranged from $100 for braves to $50 for squaws and $25 for children under fourteen. Once the scalp dried, it was difficult to tell whether it had belonged to an Indian, a Mexican, or a white person, which encouraged the wholesale slaughter of anyone caught in the region. The financial panic of 1837 left miners in Northern Mexico and pioneers moving west in need of money. Scalp hunting brought in more cash than most men could make in a year.

The Indian raids decreased during the Mexican-American War (1846-48) as U.S. soldiers chased Indians when the army wasn’t busy fighting the Mexicans. However, after the war, the Indian attacks increased and the price per scalp inflated to $200—a quicker profit than heading to the California gold fields.

In 1848, after the Rio Grande was officially marked as the international boundary between Texas and Mexico, Ben Leaton, a freighter who had been augmenting his income by working as a scalp hunter, realized that a trading post on the Rio Grande would be a prime location on the Chihuahua Trail. Jefferson Morgenthaler, author of The River Has Never Divided Us writes that Ben Leaton selected a site for a trading post three miles downriver from Presidio del Norte (present Presidio) and by bribing local officials, he produced forged deeds to the land where Mexican peasants had farmed for generations.

Fort Leaton

Interior, Fort Leaton

Leaton, at the point of a gun, ran the Mexican farmers off of a tract of farmland that was five miles long and over a mile wide. Their protests to Mexican authorities went unheeded because the land was no longer part of Mexico. Then Leaton set about building a fortification that would serve as his home, trading post, and corral. He constructed his forty-room fortress with eighteen-inch thick adobe walls that paralleled the river for 200 feet and formed an L-shaped stockade. Walls and parapets, topped by a small cannon, enclosed the structure. Giant wooden doors opened to admit teams and wagons to the fortress that became known as Fort Leaton, the only fortification between Eagle Pass and El Paso. While Fort Davis was being built eighty miles to the north, the U.S. Army used Fort Leaton as its headquarters and continued over the years to use the site as an outpost for its military patrols.

Morgenthaler writes that the first group of Texans to reach the new trading post was a seventy-man expedition in October 1848, under the leadership of the famed Texas Ranger Jack Hays. The group was charged with opening a trading route between San Antonio and Chihuahua. Depending on an inaccurate map and an incompetent guide, the entourage had gotten lost and arrived half-starved. Leaton welcomed them while they regained their strength, and he sold them horses and supplies for the remainder of their journey. Although they returned to San Antonio without completing the expedition, the Chihuahua Trail soon opened to a steady stream of freighters passing Fort Leaton.

No record survives of any Indian attacks on Fort Leaton. Ben Leaton’s critics claimed he avoided attacks because he traded rifles, bullets, swords, tobacco, and whiskey with the Indians in exchange for stolen livestock, church ornaments, housewares, and Mexican captives. Leaton also served as a welcoming host, for a hefty price, to traders heading to Mexico and forty-niners on their way to the gold fields of California.

Leaton died in 1851 before charges could be brought by the Inspector of the Military Colonies of Chihuahua of “a thousand abuses, and of so hurtful a nature, that he keeps an open treaty with the Apache Indians . . . .” His widow married Edward Hall who continued operating the trading post. Hall borrowed money in 1864 from Leaton’s scalp hunting partner John Burgess. When Hall defaulted on the debt, he was murdered, and the Burgess’ family moved into the fort. Then, Leaton’s son murdered Burgess in 1875. The Burgess family remained at Fort Leaton until 1926.

A private citizen bought the fort and donated it to Presidio County; however, inadequate funding kept the old structure from being properly maintained. Eventually, the structure was donated it to the state, and it was restored and designated in 1968 as Fort Leaton State Historic Site.

Sitting among the lechuguilla, ocotillo, creosote bush, and candelilla of the Chihuahuan Desert, the old fort welcomes visitors seven days a week, except Christmas.

A Medical Charlatan

John Romulus Brinkley

By the time John Romulus (changed to John Richard) Brinkley came to Texas in 1933, he had amassed a fortune and become famous for transplanting goat glands into his male patients. A natural salesman with a smooth voice and plenty of confidence, Brinkley had been performing his $750 “restorative” operation at his clinic in Milford, Kansas, and offering medical advice and selling his patent medicine over his Kansas radio station, KFKB. In addition to long lectures on rejuvenation and testimonials from satisfied patients, Brinkley’s station featured country music (including The Carter Family), and fundamentalist preachers. Brinkley conducted a “Medical Question Box” that allowed him to diagnose ills and prescribe medicine over the radio. The program became so popular that many pharmacists cashed in on the deal by selling Brinkley’s concoctions at inflated prices and returned an estimated $14,000 a week to Brinkley.

Finally, Dr. Morris Fishbein, executive secretary of the American Medical Association (AMA) and editor of The Journal of the American Medical Association called Brinkley a quack. Brinkley countered, claiming the AMA was a “meat-cutters union” and said its members were jealous of him because he was taking their business.

Brinkley had tried unsuccessfully for years to get a medical degree from one of the diploma mills, even traveling to Europe in 1925 in search of an institution that would give him an honorary degree. After several places turned him down, an Italian institution finally awarded him a diploma, only to have it revoked by nonother than Benito Mussolini at the urging of Brinkley’s nemesis—Dr. Morris Fishbein.

Fishbein’s accusations finally forced the Kansas State Medical Board to revoke Brinkley’s medical license, and the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) refused to renew his broadcasting license.

Brinkley decided to fix the problem by running for governor and with a victory, replace the Kansas Medical Board. He barnstormed around the state in his private plane; promised Kansans free textbooks, lower taxes, a lake in every county,

Drugstores sold Brinkley’s concoctions at greatly inflated prices.

and more rainfall. He narrowly lost the governor’s race because as a write-in candidate, many of his votes were disqualified for not being “exactly right.”

Meanwhile, he relocated his family and all his medical operation to Villa Acuña, Mexico, across the Rio Grande from Del Rio, Texas. Using the powerful radio transmitter across the border in Mexico, Brinkley broadcast his message to listeners all over the Midwest. In his new enterprise, he offered six small vials of colored water for $100, which he claimed would aid the libido. He performed fewer goat gland transplants, offering instead a “commercial glandular preparation.” He began prostate operations (charging up to $1,000 per procedure) and started using a Mercurochrome shot and pills to restore youthful vigor.

Brinkley sold air time to advertisers at $1,700 an hour, which encouraged new hucksters selling anything from life insurance to religious items such as autographed pictures of Jesus Christ. When mind readers and fortune-tellers were banned from U.S. radio by the FRC, they followed Brinkley’s lead and began opening “border blasters” across the border in Mexico.

By 1936 Brinkley’s lavish lifestyle included—a Del Rio mansion sitting on sixteen acres, a dozen Cadillacs, a greenhouse, a garden with a foaming fountain surrounded by 8,000 bushes, and a pool with a ten-foot diving tower. It has been estimated that Brinkley earned $12 million from the time he moved to Del Rio in 1933 until 1938 when his empire began to crumble. A rival moved to town and began offering similar procedures at greatly reduced prices. When city officials refused to put his competitor out of business, Brinkley moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, and opened a hospital.

In 1938 Fishbein was back again, publishing a series called “Modern Medical Charlatans” that completely repudiated Brinkley’s career and his medical credentials. Brinkley sued Fishbein for libel and lost, with the jury finding that Brinkley “should be considered a charlatan and a quack in the ordinary, well-understood meaning of those words.” That verdict opened a series of lawsuits that reached a purported $3 million. The IRS began investigating Brinkley for tax fraud. In 1941 Brinkley declared bankruptcy; an agreement between the U.S. and Mexico resulted in Brinkley’s Mexican radio station being shut down, and the U.S. Post Office opened an investigation for mail fraud.

The famed healer, known by some of his Kansas followers as “The Milford Messiah,” the man who was credited with over 16,000 goat gland transplants, who wore a goatee and named his Milford baseball team the Brinkley Goats, developed a blood clot that required amputating one of his legs. Then he suffered a series of heart attacks. Before the mail fraud case went to trial Brinkley, penniless, died of heart failure in San Antonio on May 26, 1942.

In an article written by Dr. Joe Schwarcz, he claims that Brinkley’s last words were: “If Dr. Fishbein goes to heaven, I want to go the other way.”

Last Hand-Operated Ferry on U.S. Border

Named for the ebony trees in the area and for the tiny town hugging Texas’ southern border, this ancient crossing on the Rio Grande serves as the only government-licensed, hand-operated ferry between the U.S. and either its Mexican or its Canadian neighbor.

Los Ebanos Ferry

For years before Spain began issuing land grants on the Texas side of the Rio Grande, colonists in Northern Mexico crossed this old river ford on their way to La Sal del Rey, a massive salt lake where they loaded blocks of the precious mineral in wooden carts for the trip back to Mexico.

In the 1740s José de Escandón, an appointee of the Viceroy of New Spain, led his men across this old ford on an expedition to locate the most favorable sites for Spanish colonization and Christianization of the Indians.

In 1875 an incident at this crossing resulted in the naming of a Mexican national hero. Despite Texas Ranger Captain L.H. McNelly’s efforts to drive Juan Cortina and his bandits across the border and out of Texas, cattle thefts increased. A rancher reported Cortina’s men driving seventy-five head of stolen cattle toward this crossing. The destination was Las Cuevas Ranch on the opposite bank. Word spread that the ranch headquartered the great bandit operation, and 18,000 cattle waited there to be delivered to Monterrey.

Captain McNelly’s men pursued the Mexicans across the river after dark, attacked a ranch, and killed all the men only to discover that they had stopped at the wrong ranch. They returned to the river and posted guards in the brush waiting for a counterattack.

When General Juan Flores Salinas, who owned Las Cuevas Ranch, learned of the massacre, he led twenty-five mounted Mexicans to the river only to die along with some of his men in the surprise ambush.

The following day, the Mexicans agreed to turn over the thieves and return the stolen cattle. Incensed over the indiscriminate killing, Mexicans across the region proclaimed General Salinas a national hero. His statue dominates the plaza across the river in the little village of Ciudad Díaz Ordaz.

Over the years, bandits and illegals used the ford, and during Prohibition as many as six boatloads of liquor crossed here every night. In 1950, the U.S. Border Patrol opened the entry station here. It remains the smallest of eight official ports of entry into Texas from Mexico, and it offers a glimpse of an earlier time when residents on both sides of the border enjoyed casual visits between neighbors sharing a common river.

Men pull the ropes to propel Los Ebanos Ferry across the Rio Grande.

Depending on the swiftness of the river, it takes from two to five men pulling hand over hand on heavy ropes to propel the wooden ferry loaded with up to three cars and a maximum of a dozen foot passengers across the 70-yard expanse.

The anchor cable that keeps the vessel from drifting off down river has been tied, since 1950, to the massive Ebony tree on the Texas side of the river. The giant tree, thought to be 275 years old, is listed in Famous Trees in Texas.

Ebony Tree anchors the ferry to keep it from being swept down the Rio Grande.

Most travelers choose to park their cars and join walking passengers who ride the barge-like vessel on its round trip.

Talk persists that fence-building under Homeland Security may close the old waterway. The time may be short for travelers to experience the last hand-drawn ferry on a U.S. international border.

Millions in Silver Hauled Across Texas

Hundreds of freight wagons, each drawn by six to eight mules, and brightly colored Mexican carretas, each pulled by four to six oxen, formed dusty weaving trains on the Chihuahua Road from the silver mines of

Mexican Carreta in El Paso, c. 1885  Photo courtesy SMU

Mexican Carreta in El Paso, c. 1885
Photo courtesy SMU

northern Mexico to the port town of Indianola on the central Texas coast. The trail across Texas opened in 1848 at the end of the Mexican-American War when the U.S. laid claim to Texas and the entire southwest all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The following year, the California Gold Rush set the get-rich-quickers into a frenzy looking for a shorter route across the country than the old Santa Fe Trail that ran from Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Port of Indianola

Port of Indianola

The new port of Indianola on Matagorda Bay offered dockage for U.S. military personnel and equipment bound for the western settlements of Texas as far as El Paso (future Fort Bliss), and it provided the perfect jumping-off place for settlers and gold-hungry Americans heading west. The ships, anchored at piers stretching out into the shallow bay, took on the Mexican silver and transported it to the mint in New Orleans. The vessels returned with trade goods destined for the interior of Texas and the towns developing in the west and the villages of Mexico.

The Chihuahuan Road headed northwest from Indianola, made quick stops in San Antonio and Del Rio, twisted north along the Devils River, forded the steep ledges along the Pecos River, and then plunged southwest through the Chihuahuan Desert to cross the Rio Grande at Presidio, entering the mineral-rich state of Chihuahua, Mexico.

The Spanish, as early as 1567, had discovered northern Mexico’s mineral wealth—gold, copper, zinc and lead—but silver was overwhelmingly the richest lode. By the time Mexico opened its commerce with the U.S. after the Mexican-American War, there were six mines in the area near Ciudad Chihuahua, capital of the Mexican state of Chihuahua.

The raw outcroppings of the richest mine, Santa Eulalia, had been discovered in 1652, but persistent Indian troubles chased away the Spanish explorer who had found the site. Fifty years later, three men who were fugitives from the law, hide in a deep ravine tucked into Santa Eulalia’s steep hills. They stacked some boulders to create a fireplace, and as the flames grew hotter, the boulders began leaking a shiny white metal, which they recognized as silver. Knowing their fortune awaited, they sent word via a friendly Indian to the padre in the nearby mission community of Chihuahua, offering to build the grandest cathedral in New Spain if the padre would absolve their sins and pardon them of their crimes. It worked. The fugitives received absolution and pardon; they became fabulously wealthy; and they built the Church of the Holy Cross,

Church of the Holy Cross, Our Lady of Regla, Ciudad Chihuahua

Church of the Holy Cross, Our Lady of Regla, Ciudad Chihuahua

Our Lady of Regla, the finest example of colonial architecture in northern Mexico. Miners flocked to the Santa Eulalia mine and Ciudad Chihuahua grew into a large and wealthy city.

Millions of dollars in silver and trade goods were hauled over the road between Indianola and Chihuahua, except for the years of the Civil War. The road served as the corridor for western settlement until 1883 when the Texas and Pacific Railroad from the east met the Southern Pacific from California. The new southern transcontinental railroad opened a direct route between New Orleans and California. The final blow to the Chihuahua Road arrived with the devastating hurricane of 1886 that turned the thriving seaport of Indianola into a ghost town.

Route of the Southern Transcontinental Railroad

Route of the Southern Transcontinental Railroad

John R. Brinkley, Medical Charlatan

By the time John Romulus (changed to John Richard) Brinkley came to Texas in 1933, he had amassed a fortune and become famous for

John Romulus Brinkley

John Romulus Brinkley

transplanting goat glands into his male patients. A natural salesman with a smooth voice and plenty of confidence, Brinkley had been performing his $750 “restorative” operation at his clinic in Milford, Kansas, and offering medical advice and selling his patent medicine over his Kansas radio station, KFKB. In addition to long lectures on rejuvenation and testimonials from satisfied patients, Brinkley’s station featured country music (including The Carter Family), and fundamentalist preachers. Brinkley conducted a “Medical Question Box” that allowed him to diagnose ills and prescribe medicine over the radio. The program became so popular that many pharmacists cashed in on the deal by selling Brinkley’s concoctions at inflated prices and returned an estimated $14,000 a week to Brinkley. brinkley_prescriptionsFinally, Dr. Morris Fishbein, executive secretary of the American Medical Association (AMA) and editor of The Journal of the American Medical Association called Brinkley a quack. Brinkley countered, claiming the AMA was a “meat-cutters union” and said its members were jealous of him because he was taking their business.

Brinkley had tried unsuccessfully for years to get a medical degree from one of the diploma mills, even traveling to Europe in 1925 in search of an institution that would give him an honorary degree. After several places turned him down, an Italian institution finally awarded him a degree, only to have it revoked by non other than Benito Mussolini at the urging of Brinkley’s nemesis—Dr. Morris Fishbein.

Fishbein’s accusations finally forced the Kansas State Medical Board to revoke Brinkley’s medical license, and the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) refused to renew his broadcasting license.

Undaunted, Brinkley decided to fix the problem by running for governor and replacing the Kansas Medical Board. He barnstormed around the state in his private plane; promised Kansans free textbooks, lower taxes, a lake in every county, and more rainfall. Meanwhile he relocated his family and all his medical operation to Villa Acuña, Mexico, across the Rio Grande from Del Rio, Texas. He narrowly lost the governor’s race because as a write-in candidate, many of his votes were disqualified for not being “exactly right.”

Villa Acuna, Mexico, Radio Transmitting Station

Villa Acuna, Mexico, Radio Transmitting Station

Using the powerful radio transmitter across the border in Mexico, Brinkley broadcast his message to listeners all over the Midwest. In his new enterprise he offered six small vials of colored water for $100, which apparently aided the libido. He performed fewer goat gland transplants, offering instead a “commercial glandular preparation.” He began prostate operations (charging up to $1,000 per procedure) and started using a Mercurochrome shot and pills to restore youthful vigor.

Brinkley sold air time to advertisers at $1,700 an hour, which encouraged new hucksters selling anything from life insurance to religious items such as autographed pictures of Jesus Christ. When mind readers and fortune-tellers were banned from U.S. radio by the FRC, they followed Brinkley’s lead and began opening “border blasters” across the border in Mexico.

By 1936 Brinkley’s lavish lifestyle included—a Del Rio mansion sitting on sixteen acres, a

Brinkley Mansion, Del Rio, Texas

Brinkley Mansion, Del Rio, Texas

dozen Cadillacs, a greenhouse, a garden with a foaming fountain surrounded by 8,000 bushes, and a pool with a ten-foot diving tower. It has been estimated that Brinkley earned $12 million from the time he moved to Del Rio in 1933 until 1938 when his empire began to crumble. A rival moved to town and began offering similar procedures at greatly reduced prices. When city officials refused to put his competitor out of business, Brinkley moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, and opened a hospital.

In 1938 Fishbein was back again, publishing a series called “Modern Medical Charlatans” that completely repudiated Brinkley’s career and his medical credentials. Brinkley sued Fishbein for libel and lost, with the jury finding that Brinkley “should be considered a charlatan and a quack in the ordinary, well-understood meaning of those words.” That verdict opened a series of lawsuits that reached a purported $3 million. The IRS began investigating Brinkley for tax fraud. In 1941 Brinkley declared bankruptcy; an agreement between the U.S. and Mexico resulted in Brinkley’s Mexican radio station being shut down; and the U.S. Post Office opened an investigation for mail fraud.

The famed healer, known by some of his Kansas followers as “The Milford Messiah,” the man who was credited with over 16,000 goat gland transplants, who wore a goatee and named his Milford baseball team the Brinkley Goats, developed a blood clot that required amputating one of his legs. Then he suffered a series of heart attacks. Before the mail fraud case went to trial Brinkley, penniless, died of heart failure in San Antonio on May 26, 1942.

In an article written by Dr. Joe Schwarcz, he claims that Brinkley’s last words were: “If Dr. Fishbein goes to heaven, I want to go the other way.”