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Twain's almost-history as a drug lord


In 1856, a twenty-one-year-old Mark Twain was stranded in Keokuk, Iowa, working for his brother’s printing office, bored to death by the small town’s soporific pace. Restless, he needed a change. He started reading about the Amazon River, and soon cooked up a scheme to sail to Brazil. In August, he wrote to his younger brother Henry about his plans. Fifty-four years later, he reminisced about the episode in an essay published just two months before his death in April 1910:

Among the books that interested me in those days was one about the Amazon… [H]e told an astonishing tale about coca, a vegetable product of miraculous powers, asserting that it was so nourishing and so strength-giving that the native of the mountains of the Madeira region would tramp up hill and down all day on a pinch of powdered coca and require no other sustenance. I was fired with a longing to ascend the Amazon. Also with a longing to open up a trade in coca with all the world. During months I dreamed that dream, and tried to contrive ways to get to Para and spring that splendid enterprise upon an unsuspecting planet.

In short: Mark Twain, at twenty-one, almost became a drug dealer. He wanted to go to Brazil and start importing cocaine into the United States. He got as far as New Orleans before he decided to become a steamboat pilot instead.