146 Southwestern Historical Quarterly July
Quacks and Crusaders: The Fabulous Careers of John Brznkley, Norman Baker, and
Harry Hoxsey. By Eric S. Juhnke. (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas,
2oo2. Pp. xvi+215. Illustrations, acknowledgments, introduction, conclu-
sion, notes, selected bibliography. ISBN 0-7oo6-1203-3. $29.95, cloth.)
Here's the basic story: Ambitious men each use the latest high-tech means of
communication to promote their special cures and to rail against the greed of
organized medicine. They become populist folk heroes, thriving at a time when
millions lost everything in a belly-up economy.
Sounds like the story of some 2003 aging hippie herbalists with Flash-fancy
Not quite. The high-tech communication is radio, the era is the first half of
the twentieth century, and the place is rural America.
Eric S. Juhnke, assistant professor of history at Briar Cliff University, has writ-
ten a highly readable, well-researched book, succinctly intertwining the stories
of John Brinkley, Norman Baker and Harry Hoxsey. He vividly details how and
why these three "Davids" flourished despite pressures from medical and govern-
mental Goliaths. By proclaiming how they were "persecuted" by government
regulators, they attracted the disfranchised. Brinkley and Baker even cam-
paigned for governor.
What they lacked in scientific training, they more than made up for in busi-
ness acumen, showmanship and sheer audacity. When authorities ran them out
of town, they eventually wound up in Texas, where they broadcasted from
Mexico freely and loudly into millions of living rooms. Hanging out his shingle
in rural Kansas after graduating from a questionable medical school, Brinkley
distorted his practice and drugstore into a public relations machine to promote
his cockeyed science. Goat gland transplantation, he claimed, would halt aging,
increase virility, and restore fertility. He opened a radio station that offered live
entertainment and Medical Question Box, where he answered patients' ques-
tions over the air. When his practice and his station were shut down, he headed
for Del Rio, and his radio career again boomed. Goat gonads found a new life
over the border.
Meanwhile, over in Iowa, former machinist and vaudeville magician Norman
Baker operated a radio station, where he lambasted government meddling, big
business and organized medicine. Latching onto a cancer cure by another dubi-
ous practitioner, Baker opened his own hospital. After an expensive trial, he head-
ed for Nuevo Laredo to build his own high-power radio station. He was finally con-
victed of mail fraud, but even three years in Leavenworth didn't slow him down.
A grade-school dropout, Harry Hoxsey devised cancer "treatments" from
herbs and grasses in his rural Illinois clinic. After being forced out of several
states, he opened shop in Dallas, where the Texas State Board of Naturopathic
Examiners licensed him. At last, he could legitimately put "Dr." in front of his
name. Thousands of grateful patients flocked to him. Hoxsey Clinics eventually
sprouted up in other states.
It would have been easy to blame their successes on the uneducated and the
gullible. AuthorJuhnke delves into why their empires grew, thanks to innovative
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 107, July 2003 - April, 2004. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101224/. Accessed October 24, 2014.