Tuesday, July 16, 2019


I recently picked up this unassuming little 5 ½ inch aqua unembossed but labeled medicine bottle because it appeared the proprietor was located in California. The town location was very difficult to read but enough of the lettering remained to make a decent guess. It looked very much like the word FOREST. I drew a blank on where a town by that name could have been a likely location for someone to produce a commercial medicinal product. Of course, the SYRUP OF FIGS was well known at about the time this little bottle was made, but EXTRACT OF FIGS had me stumped. The only town I could find in California with the name of Forest, is the former Sierra County gold rush period settlement of Forest City. It is a remnant of its former glory and never did contain more than about 1,500 inhabitants during its heyday. In fact, as its residents began moving away it lost its post office and its status as a ‘city’, becoming simply Forest in the mid-1890’s. (see http://www.calexplornia.com/forest-city-sierra-countys-authentic-gold-rush-ghost-town/ for a nice article on the town.)

Not convinced this little town may have contained a doctor who was willing to peddle a medicine from such a remote location I focused my research attention on Dr. E. R. Brooks. It wasn’t long before it was clear that Ezra Rockwell Brooks was, in fact, a real doctor and he actually did settle in the old gold rush town of Forest. I had to find out a little more about him.

Ezra R. Brooks was born June 12, 1861, in Seymour, Iowa. In 1886 he received his M.D. degree from the College of Medicine of the University of Iowa. On August 20, 1890 he married Kate Thomas in Union County, Oregon, where a number of his siblings had previously relocated. His first daughter, Lucile Frances Brooks was born in Oregon in 1892.

Dr. Brooks had located to Forest, Sierra County, California, by 1896, where his second daughter, Greta, was born on August 12, 1899. He continued to practice medicine there until about 1901 and then moved to Bodie, California, where he stayed until 1906. Brooks then moved to the copper boom-town of Greenwater, Inyo County, for about a year and was also appointed postmaster in that town.

Dr. Brooks wife, Kathryn, was apparently tired of his wanderlust and they were divorced. Kathryn remained in Orange and Los Angeles Counties for nearly the rest of her life.

His first daughter, Frances Lucille, had graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, and became a music teacher. By some tragic act of fate she died in 1916 and is buried in Santa Ana – age 23. Even her alma mater wondered what happened to her when it published in one of its odd little newsletters titled The Brazen Knocker, on June 23, 1923, “WHAT HAPPENED TO L. BROOKS. The mysterious disappearance of Lucile Brooks is still puzzling the authorities.  Eleven years ago her whereabouts were well known to everyone. She was pointed out to visitors as one of the most promising entites (sic) in the vicinity.  She had even attained the honorable position as a josh editor of the Exponent, but shortly after its publication on June 1912, she disappeared suddenly. Anyone having knowledge of her whereabouts will kindly notify the authorities.”

 About 1945, and in failing health, Kathryn Brooks moved back to the Washington, DC area where her daughter, Greta, and family were living. Greta’s husband, Robert E. Soderberg, was a career military man stationed there at the time. Kathryn died in Arlington, Virginia, on January 31, 1946. Her death certificate notes that she was to be buried at Cedar Hill Cemetery, Suitland, Maryland, but her final burial place is in Fairhaven Memorial Park, Santa Ana, Orange County, CA, along side her daughter, Frances Lucille.

About 1908 Dr. Brooks moved to Orange, Orange County, for awhile and then moved to Holtville, in Imperial County, in May of that year, where he associated himself with the Central Hospital in El Centro, California, until 1910 when he then moved to Coalinga, Fresno County for a short time. By 1912 Brooks had relocated to Oakland, California, where he met and married Mabel M. Hagel on March 29, 1916.

Then, by 1920, Dr. Brooks moved to Meadow Lake, Nevada County, as noted in the census record for that year (Feb 7, 1920). He then moved to Floriston, Nevada County, where he continued to practice medicine. He stayed there until 1924, and in the following year moved to San Francisco. He then moved to Albany, in Alameda County by 1927 and stayed there until about 1934. While living there, his second wife, Mabel Mary Brooks, died in Santa Clara County, on November 4, 1930, probably at a hospital there.  In 1935 he was back in San Francisco.

 I lost track of him for a few years but he apparently moved to Atascadero in San Luis Obispo County after his San Francisco residency.   The San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram, December 30, 1938, notes. “Dr. E.R. Brooks returned to his home in Atascadero recently.  During the summer months he is employed as resident physician at the Michigan California Lumber Company near Placerville.” He continued this summer job at least until 1940, all the while maintaining his primary house in Atascadero and moving there in the winter months. This is probably why the U.S. census for 1940 lists him as living in Georgetown, El Dorado County with the occupation of “lumber camp physician”

The San Luis Obispo Telegram-Tribune, October 24, 1941, notes. . .  “ Dr. E.R. Brooks has sold his home at the corner of Cubaril and Rosario avenues and has moved to the Anderson Kentucky Home on Rosario.” He would have been about 80 years old by this time – certainly old enough to slow down a little.

Why Dr. Brooks chose Forest to live and to produce his Extract of Figs is currently not known, however, it was truly an isolated location that had already witnessed its glory days as a gold rush town. It just doesn’t seem like there would be a sustainable market demand for a medicine within the area he chose to live. And, in time, he probably came to the same conclusion.

Although packaged like many patent medicines of the day it only skated on the edge of such products. Most importantly, it is not a scam product and is an effective medicine for the relief of constipation. Even though the dominant product of the day, Syrup of Figs, located in Reno, Nevada, was similar in nature, and actually may not have contained figs, apparently that company chose not to rein in Brooks’ version of the product, since it really didn’t present itself as a blatant copy. Or, perhaps the Syrup of Figs company was unaware of Dr. Brooks’ version since it really was not a great success in the market place, thus not a real competitor. It is even doubtful that Brooks continued with his Extract of Figs after he left Forest and moved to Bodie. Whatever the answer it is an unusual artifact from an unusual location.

Initially, I had no intention of following the life Dr. E. R. Brooks with such tenacity but I don’t recall anyone, especially a real medical doctor, move around with such frequency. It became a fascinating challenge to see where he would go and what he would do next. Has anyone else seen one of these bottles?


  1. Great post Eric. Before I sold 3/4 of my Placerville collection. I had a couple of billheads from the Morgan's Pharmacy Placerville,1930's - 1940's that had a Dr. Brooks name on them. One of them showed he had purchased different types of extracts. Could be the same guy. Very cool.

  2. Eric; Just a brief, but huge, thank you for picking up the reins after our loss of Rick. This article is well researched, well written, and does my late best friend proud. Keep up the good (no great)work. Thank You! Bruce