Dr. J.R. Briggs served several terms as an early Dallas City Council member, one as mayor pro tem, and he backed Dallas annexing Oak Cliff back in 1903.
One thing that’s not mentioned in his 1907 obituary is that he was the first medical doctor to experiment with peyote and publish an article about its psychedelic effects.
He opened the Briggs Sanitarium for the treatment of tuberculosis in the 200 block of South Tyler Street in 1889.
Briggs was born in Tennessee and received a medical degree from the Missouri Medical College in St. Louis at age 22. He came to Texas shortly thereafter and then pursued eye-ear-nose-and-throat training in New York City, London, Glasgow and Paris before settling in Oak Cliff with his wife.
Briggs studied the methods of Dr. Robert Koch of Berlin, whose research showed that bacteria caused tuberculosis, in a time when most thought it was an inherited disease. Briggs was known for using the “Koch serum,” and the sanitarium refused “hopeless” cases.
He was among the first American doctors to adopt Koch’s practices, which could cure people in the early stages of tuberculosis with vaccinations.
According to a publication called “A History of Greater Dallas and Vicinity, Vol. 2,” Briggs became widely known for his success in healing.
That history describes the sanitarium, by then under new ownership after Briggs’ death.
“…a charming suburb four miles from Dallas whose site is an undulating prairie stretching over the highest pitch of land in the county, commanding both picturesque and astounding scenery and the purest of air.”
Wow. Sounds … picturesque. Right there in the 200 block of South Tyler, before Dallas was built up, before the neon Pegasus even. How far out it must’ve seemed.
But that’s not all.
The building had a 520-foot façade with an 875-square-foot U-shaped veranda, making a “pleasant promenade for convalescents in all kinds of weather.”
The sanitarium had a laboratory with “incubators for making serums and cultures and guinea pigs for experiment purposes.”
Speaking of experiment purposes.
Medical publications credit Dr. John Raleigh Briggs as the first to draw scientific attention to peyote, a small spineless cactus that produces mescaline, a strong psychedelic.
He’s even on Wikipedia for this.
Briggs experimented with peyote on himself.
If only we could find his original paper on the effects of mescaline. Briggs founded the Texas Health Journal, where he published his findings.
He reported in the journal in 1887 that E. A. Paffrath of Vernon, Texas, sold 3,500 peyote buttons to Kiowa for $15.
Briggs sent samples to Harvard University and the pharmaceutical company Parke-Davis & Co.
That’s really all we know about it.
When Dallas wanted to annex Oak Cliff in 1903, Briggs was the chairman of the annexation committee. After a heated election that divided the town of Oak Cliff, Briggs gave a speech, saying that he didn’t harbor any ill will toward those on the other side.
“They are all good men and my neighbors and friends, and now we will all join hands. I feel confident in the building up of greater Dallas,” he said.
Briggs died at home of what was then called Bright’s disease, acute kidney disease, at age 56.
His funeral was at his home in the sanitarium, and there was a funeral procession to Oak Cliff Cemetery.