Kansas City, Mo. Kansas has been highlighting its 150th anniversary with plenty of exhibits detailing the long march from shallow Permian sea to agri-industrial state.
But a little exhibition across the state line in Missouri veers away from the usual list of Kansas notables — Dwight Eisenhower, Amelia Earhart, wheat, tornados — and trumpets some lesser known characters like oilman Harry Sinclair, businessman Woody Hockaday and the very odd physician, John R. Brinkley.
“Cowboys, Quacks, and Carousels: Stories of Kansas,” a free exhibit at the National Archives at Kansas City, runs through May 28. It takes a look at Kansas history through the use of federal records, and is less a timeline of the evolution of the Sunflower state than a glance through some noteworthy and obscure pieces of its past.
The one-room exhibit features records of Kansas, beginning with land purchased under the Homestead Act in the 1800s — think $816 for two lots in Leavenworth County — and an 1863 Peace Treaty between the Pawnee and Yankton Sioux.
A school report from 1898 for Olympian Jim Thorpe, a member of the Sac and Fox tribe who was also known as “Bright Path,” shows he attended elementary school at the Haskell Institute in Lawrence before heading to the Olympics and a celebrated career as a professional athlete.
Kansas as an oil state is seen through Harry Sinclair, a druggist in Independence, who in 1916 founded Sinclair Oil and Refining Co., which by World War I was the largest independent oil company in the U.S. A 1934 map of Kansas — without U.S. Interstate 70 — shows where several Sinclair stations were located around the state.
Other Kansas business gets a nod with the World War II draft registration cards from brothers Walter and Richard Beech, who had already founded Beechcraft in Wichita when they registered for the “Old Man’s Draft.” There are also displays about Ford County Sheriff Bat Masterson, Buffalo Bill Cody and renowned newspaper editor William Allen White.
Then there is the slightly peculiar side, which shows up with a display about Woody Hockaday, of Wichita, who owned auto and tire supply stores and was known for mapping car routes around the country.
But Hockaday had another calling too, apparently. A newspaper clipping from 1936 chronicles Hockaday’s adventures as “The Featherman,” a moniker he earned after dumping a bag of feathers in War Department offices and at an American Legion dinner in Maryland, creating a “near riot.”
Hockaday’s antics pale, however, against those of Dr. John R. Brinkley.
Brinkley, a surgeon in Milford, developed a specialty, called the Brinkley Operation, which involved transplanting goat gonads in “men as a cure for impotence and infertility.” Brinkley also had a radio station.
The exhibit includes a book written by Brinkley and an affidavit from a patient, who had only praise for the doctor.
The exhibit notes that Brinkley, who eventually left medicine and radio after both licenses were yanked, segued into politics, running unsuccessfully for Kansas governor.
Then he moved to Texas.