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Biograpy of Dr. John Christopher - Part I


Adapted from An Herbal Legacy of Courage David Christopher, M.H.

The quality that I remember most when thinking of my famous father, Dr. John R. Christopher, was his extraordinary positive attitude. This positive outlook was reflected in a cheerfulness that never quit. Even when he suffered physically or even through endless persecution from the medical establishment, because of his herbal treatments, he maintained his love of life and deep concern for those in need.

Living in an era when natural remedies are much the fashion, we may often forget what a pioneer Dr. Christopher was, and what he sacrificed and suffered to help bring about the renaissance of herbal healing in North America. Appreciation for his singular struggle comes when you see his life´s path in the following biography.

He was born November 25, 1909 in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Jean Ramone and Lorena Roth Raymond. Both were emigrants to the United States, and for some unknown reason, they left their infant son and an older sister at the Salt Lake City Orphanage. When prospective parents came to that orphanage, the children would be lined up so the couple could make their choice. On one such day, Leander and Melissa Ann Craig Christopher visited the orphanage, looking for a son. Suddenly, without invitation, a baby, dressed only in a diaper and thin undershirt, toddled up, crawled into Melissa´s lap, and snuggled into her shoulder. She exclaimed softly, "This is our son!"

The original parents had stipulated that both children remain together, so now Raymond (often called "Ray") and his sister Ruby had a new family. They lived in Salt Lake City in the Avenues district, which was then a semi-rural neighborhood. The first glimpse the Christophers had of Raymond´s unusual future came one winter´s night when young Ray lay critically ill with croup. The parents were pacing the floor with him, distressed because of the high fever and labored breathing, wondering if he would have the strength to catch another breath. Suddenly a knock came at the door. Leander, startled because of the late hour, answered.

Standing on the porch was a bearded man in short sleeves, with no coat in the bitter cold. He announced to Leander that their young child was ill but would not die; that he had an important mission to perform. Leander listened to the stranger give explicit directions on how to cut the phlegm and stop the croup.

Leander started into the house to follow these instructions, but then turned to thank the visitor and invite him into the house to get warm. But the man was gone without a trace. There were no footprints in the deep snow. Ray´s Parents followed the man´s instructions, and he recovered. The Christophers never forgot this experience, and Ray always remembered that his life had an important purpose because of it.

That Ray became a healer is appropriate and also ironic, because he had been born with advanced rheumatoid arthritis, walking with a cane even as a child, or often confined to a wheelchair. Along with the arthritis, he developed hardening of the arteries. Despite the constant pain and suffering, young Ray was cheerful and optimistic. Doctors at the time predicted that he would never reach the age of thirty.

Raymond´s adopted mother suffered from a lifetime affliction of diabetes and dropsy, which left her exhausted and debilitated. As Ray, just a little boy, observed her suffering from his own wheelchair, he resolved one day to be a doctor. His mother laughed a little, commenting that he couldn´t even stand the sight of blood, that he couldn´t bear to see chickens or other animals killed for the evening meal. What kind of doctor could such a person be?

Raymond answered, "Mother, I will be able to heal people without cutting them up. There will be natural ways of doing it." This answer from a young child became a charter for his life´s mission. When Raymond was sixteen years old, such a doctor visited the Christopher home: an Iridologist who could ascertain a person´s condition from examining the iris of the eye. This doctor, seeing in her irises the very conditions she had been treated for over the years, recommended dietary changes and gave Mrs. Christopher some herbs. As the doctor left, Ray said, "That´s the kind of doctor I´m going to be when I grow up." Several months later, Raymond tried to locate the doctor, but he had been arrested for practicing medicine without a license, and put into jail-a foreshadowing of Ray´s own future

After he graduated from high school, he heard of another natural doctor in Canada, who massaged people´s feet to heal them. He was in such demand that people lined up to see him, even pitching tents for weeks at a time as they waited. Ray wanted to see this man, not only to have his rheumatoid arthritis healed but to study under him. He prepared to make the trip.. His parents tried to discourage him, since they had no money at that time in the middle of the Depression. Nevertheless, Ray continued to prepare for the trip, till he heard that this man, too, had been arrested

Ray worked during the days at his father´s lumber mill, and at night he played with a dance band to save for college. He graduated with honors from Henager´s Business College in Salt Lake City. Because he had a photographic memory and a way with words, he wanted to go to law school. He was accepted at the University of Utah School of Law.

The day before classes began, Ray was riding in the car of a friend and they were hit by another vehicle. Ray was pronounced dead at the scene. His grief-stricken parents arrived at the morgue to identify the body-when his mother suddenly screamed! She had seen the faintest flicker of an eyelash! The mortician bent over Ray, and he too saw the slightest motion of life in him. He was rushed to the hospital, where he lay in a coma for several days, and then, after drifting into consciousness, lay helpless only able to speak. Nurses had to feed him, shave him, and carry him to the bathroom.

One afternoon, a driver from the lumber company came to visit him. He tried to cajole him into coming back to work. Ray just laughed, knowing he couldn´t even move his hand. The driver suggested a chiropractor. But when Ray mentioned this possibility to the four doctors who were treating him, they scoffed at him. Nevertheless, this driver convinced Ray´s parents to take him to a chiropractor. Ray resisted with all he had, but they carried him out, and to the chiropractor they went.

Several days after his chiropractic treatment, Ray was working again at the office. He was still bandaged about the head, but he regained his strength and could work as he used to. However, his injuries had damaged his photographic memory and given him trouble with his short-term memory. One day he went to the bank to deposit company funds, and his mind went completely blank. He located some police officers, asking them for help. They found his identification and took him back to the office, and his memory finally returned.

During this recuperation period, he would suffer periodic pain in the head and back from the injuries of his accident. At times the pain was so severe he couldn´t sleep. And at the same time he was helplessly watching his mother die from complications of diabetes and Bright´s Disease. Her condition stopped responding to even the highest doses of insulin, and her arms were purple from constant needles. She began to die, slowly poisoned with gangrene. As Ray watched her painful death, helpless to do anything for her, he prayed that he could learn how to stop such suffering.

His own pain caused him to experience many sleepless nights. To help pass through these he would study and read. In addition to many good books, he chose to read from the scriptures. One night, confined to a chair with arthritis, he picked up The Doctrine and Covenants, a book of scripture from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It fell open to Section 89, commonly known as "The Word of Wisdom," a health code for the church. Ray had read this many times before, but this time he gained some unique impressions. The words sparingly referring to meats-and wholesome-referring to grains and vegetables-deeply moved him. He vowed to follow the health code strictly, and developed for himself a diet of fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds.

He was astonished to see his health improve immediately and dramatically. Within a few months, he gained weight, began sleeping soundly at night, and had enough energy for a full day´s work. In 1939 he wrote Just What is the Word of Wisdom?, a booklet that described this experience and outlined his ideas about diet and health. Not long after, Dr. John A. Widtsoe, an authority in the Mormon church and author who had also written on the Word of Wisdom, called Ray on the phone, praising his booklet as being "well ahead of its time." He urged Ray to distribute it to as many people as he could.

Ray began to do so, talking to as many people as would listen about his ideas on health. Many of them responded with derision and ridicule. With typical good humor, he often retold one particular story. He was still working at the lumber mill, and at lunchtime, one of the workers told him he was wanted at his office. There lay a sumptuous meal, set with a fine tablecloth and beautiful china: fresh green alfalfa ("common cow hay," as he later described it), dried wheat and rolled oats, and an elegant decanter of apple juice. The workers waited to see what he would do. With characteristic good grace, he pulled out his chair and plucked up the fancy cloth napkin. "How nice of you! This is really wonderful!" he exclaimed, and ate every bite. They never kidded him again, but he lived lonely among his peers, since vegetarianism was not understood at the time

Ray married Irene Short in 1935, and had two daughters, Sandra Joy and Carol Ann, but this marriage did not work out, and they were divorced in 1943. He later met Wendella Walker, fell immediately in love, and they were married on August 14, 1944, in the Salt Lake Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She always supported his ideas about health and his work, and together they had five children: John Rulon, Ruth Ellen, David Wendell, Janet Lorene, and Steven Craig.


When World War II broke out, and just a few months after the Christopher´s were married, Ray received a draft notice on his doorstep summoning him to active duty. A 35-year-old man, divorced and newly married, with two families to support, he reported for service but requested status as a conscientious objector, presenting his Word of Wisdom booklet as evidence of his firm beliefs.

I´ll serve my country with pride on the front lines, he said, "I´ll carry stretchers that can save people. But I will not carry a gun. I cannot kill another human being." During basic training, he was told to carry a gun on night watch, but he refused. The officer thrust a night stick at him, but he shook his head, and refused to carry a night stick, too, because you could kill people with a night stick. The officer ordered Ray to be confined to quarters under guard till next morning, when he was tried for his rebellion. The officer hearing the case slapped his palm sharply on the table and shouted, "This is ridiculous! A conscientious objector that won´t carry a nightstick? What if everyone in the world felt as you do?"

Then there would be no war Ray answered.

That´s the answer I needed, the officer responded. "Take this card. It shows that you are a conscientious objector, and no one will challenge you again."

From Fort Douglas, Utah, Ray traveled to North Fort at Washington´s Fort Lewis, where he was assigned to supervise a medical dispensary. Here was more irony- Raymond Christopher, a buck private, gave orders to pharmacists and therapists, all of whom outranked him. Even the cleaning boy outranked him. Ray, in charge of the entire operation, served under a Major Shumate.

At first Ray felt frustrated and angry. Having learned and seen so much healing using natural methods and nutrition (he had all ready helped many people), here he was confined to use standard medical treatments. He knew that there are better ways. He saw cases among the soldiers that he knew would quickly respond to natural treatments. However, Major Shumate was firmly against any such treatments. So he spent his time observing the effects of orthodox medications, seeing firsthand the futility of the treatment. He saw that standard medicine only treats symptoms instead of the cause of disease. But one day a soldier came to the dispensary with a supposedly incurable condition, and this changed the course of his life.

At a staff meeting, composed of the heads of eight dispensaries, Major Shumate, a private dermatologist in civilian life, said he had never seen a case of contagious impetigo so severe. The soldier had been hospitalized nine times, where his case had cleared up temporarily, but it always flared up when he was released. Specialists from the eastern U.S. had been called in, but nothing had worked.

Major Shumate brought the soldier in, and´ except for Ray, they all gasped with horror. The soldier´s head had been shaved as much as possible, but wherever the stubble of hair grew, the scalp was covered with a crusty scab nearly an inch thick.

What a beautiful case of impetigo! exclaimed Ray (who had never seen one quite that bad).

You must be a born doctor, said Shumate, slapping him on the shoulder, "It´s one of the most amazing things I have ever seen, too. But unfortunately, we have to release this man from the army."

I object to that! cried the soldier, "I came into this army a clean man. I caught this thing while I was here, and now you´re asking me to take this filth home to my wife and children. I won´t do it."

I´m sorry, but there´s nothing more we can do, responded Shumate, "We´ve done everything possible. We´ve used every cure medical science has to offer, and nothing has worked. We have to give you a release, and it will be an honorable discharge."

Wait, Ray said. "That man can be healed."

Shumate whirled to face him. "None of your blasted herbs!" The other officers rolled their eyes and guffawed.

The soldier spoke up. "I should have something to say about this. I don´t care if he puts horse manure on my head, as long as he heals me."

Shumate paused, and then said, "All right. If you sign papers releasing the government and the army from any liability, you can try this treatment."

The papers were signed, and the soldier was placed under twenty-four hour military police surveillance to prevent escape. As the meeting broke up, one of the officers jeered, "When will the big unveiling be?"

Monday morning! Ray snapped back, without really thinking. Then he realized-he just had one week. Here, far from home without the herbs that he generally used, he had to treat the worst case of impetigo he had ever seen. Immediately he called a Salt Lake friend who had a black walnut tree in his backyard. He explained his dilemma, and his friend agreed to gather the black walnut husks, even though the ground was covered with snow. They were transported overnight to Fort Lewis. Ray picked them up in the morning-sopping wet, which could weaken their potency. Not only that, but Ray only had rubbing alcohol, not grain alcohol, which was not available through the army medical system. And instead of fourteen days to macerate the tincture, he figured he could take only two days. He carried the tincture with him, shaking it vigorously all the time.

At last he strained the tincture and made a compress to fit over the soldier´s head like a football helmet. He left instructions that the compress should be kept wet with the tincture for the rest of the week. He also wrote a prescription to the mess sergeant, for wholesome foods for the soldier to eat.

All too soon Monday morning arrived, and the dispensary heads all met, ready to ridicule Ray for his herbal treatments. "Everybody ready?" asked Shumate in a mocking tone. "Private Christopher, are you ready to show us your miracle?"

I´m ready, responded Ray, feeling nervous but determined. "I haven´t seen him yet, but we´ll take a look."

The guards ushered the soldier in, and Ray skillfully cut away the adhesive tape. As he lifted the compress off, the scab came off with it, and the soldier´s scalp was as clean and pure as a baby´s. The impetigo was gone, with no scarring.

The officers all gasped. Shumate shouted; "I´ve never seen anything like this in all my medical practice!" He took Ray aside. "I´ve misjudged you, Private Christopher," he admitted. "From this day on you have full permission to practice with herbs. Set yourself up a laboratory here. Do whatever you like as long as you´re under my jurisdiction at Fort Lewis."

And with that Ray became the only practicing herbalist in the United States Army during World War II. His black walnut tincture became famous, not only to cure impetigo, but for fungus infection and jungle rot. When soldiers learned that Private Christopher could cure jungle rot, his patient load multiplied tenfold. Eventually this tincture was successful in curing scrofula, eczema, ringworm, shingles, and chronic boils.

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