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From furs and wampum to slot machines and megadollars.

Recent Controversy

In 1992, the Mashantucket, a Native American tribe in Connecticut, opened Foxwoods--the largest casino resort in the world. Foxwoods Resort now generates gross profits of $1 billion a year. In 1996, the Mohegans, relatives of the Mashantucket, opened Mohegan Sun, a colossal concrete complex, only eleven miles away from Foxwoods. It is also a gambling, or "gaming" resort. The competition created by another casino being so close by did not appear to slow the profitable growth of Foxwoods.

By 2000, two more groups of people in Connecticut. asked for federal recognition from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (B.I.A.). Identifying themselves by similar names, both the Eastern Pequot and the Paucatuck Eastern Pequot wanted to be recognized as Indian tribes. Each group hoped to build separate casinos on a reservation in Connecticut. In March 2000, the BIA granted preliminary approval to the two tribes' requests, but it could not decide whether the groups should be recognized as one tribe or two. The Eastern Pequot claimed that the Paucatuck Eastern Pequot were a part of their tribe. (1) But the Paucatucks said they were a separate group and wanted to run their own affairs. They had already struck a deal with real estate tycoon Donald Trump, who hoped to finance their new casino. (2)

Town officials of North Stonington opposed the B.I.A.'s recognition of the "new" tribes. These officials were concerned about the social and environmental effects that additional casinos might have on the region. They held up a report from 1976 that had found "no discernable evidence that the [Pequots] had any criteria to establish or define its membership." (3) Adding to the controversy, a local author published a book challenging the Mashantucket's claim to be descendants of the historic Pequot tribe. The author also alleged that the U.S. Congress had bypassed the BIAs requirement for documentation in order to settle a land dispute with the Mashantuckets in 1983. (4)

Some citizens in the surrounding communities angrily called for a congressional investigation into the federal government's process for officially recognizing Indian tribes.

Echoes from History

Do you find this situation a bit confusing? You are not alone. By May 2000, the BIA announced that it no longer wanted to be the "entity that grants federal recognition to American Indian tribes. (5) This confusion over how to define a "tribe" is not new. Conflict over control of land and trade between groups of Native Americans in Connecticut predates the arrival of Europeans. A legacy of clan and tribal divisiveness reaches back beyond historical records to the fragile threads of oral traditions. When Europeans arrived, their desires for power and profit only added new fuel to a fire that was already ablaze.

Mohegan elders said that long ago, they were all one people. The story of the Mohegans begins with a legend about their ancestors, members of the Wolf Clan of the Lenni Lenape peoples, who migrated from the Hudson River (in what is now New York State) to the Atlantic coast. Indians who were already living in the region referred to the Mohegans as pequotaug meaning "invaders" or "destroyers," which indicates that their arrival in the area was regarded as a sudden and hostile invasion. (6) Their new name, the Pequot, stuck, but it is worth noting that, originally, the names Mohegan and Pequot referred to one and the same tribe.

The Pequot War in 1637 marked the first major conflict between Indians and settlers in the region. Trouble began in 1634 when a Dutch trader kidnapped Tatobem, a Pequot sachem (chief), and ransomed him for wampum (belts of shell beads which, like money, served at this time as a means of exchange). After the Pequot paid the ransom, the kidnapper killed Tatobem instead of returning him alive. (7) The Pequot were enraged by this betrayal. Over the next three years, they attacked wampum dealers (who were Dutch and English settlers) on the Connecticut River and Block Island. The Pequot retaliation escalated until one hundred of their men attacked an English farm, killing nine people and carrying off two young women. A colonial court called in Hartford on May 1, 1637 "concluded some forces should forthwith be sent out against the Pequots; [the settlers'] grounds being just, and necessity enforcing [the settlers] to engage in an offensive and defensive War." (8) Thus, the Pequot War began.

Rivalry Between Pequots

Beneath the surface of these violent incidents were currents of social, economic, and political conflict. Tribal hostility, personal power struggles, and the control of wampum were factors in the conflict. For example, after the murder of Tatobem, his son, Sassacus, inherited the role of sachem. Uncas, one of the Pequot sagamores (subordinate chiefs) and a rival of Sassacus, married the daughter of Sassacus to gain a closer proximity to the "tribal elite." After several attempts to usurp control of the Pequot, Uncas was accused of treachery and banished. (9)

Stripped of his power, prestige, and possessions, Uncas and his followers moved across the Connecticut river and adopted the original name of their ancestors, the Mohegan. In 1637, news that the English planned to march against the Pequot offered Uncas a new strategy to overpower Sassacus--he formed an alliance with the English. He also successfully negotiated the alliance of another tribe, the Narragansett, whose relationship with the Pequot had never been peaceful.

At dawn, on May 26, 1637, the combined forces of seasoned Colonial soldiers and skilled Mohegan and Narragansett warriors arrived at the gates of the Pequot's fort in what is now Mystic, Connecticut. In just over an hour, the fort was destroyed and an estimated 300 to 700 old men, women and children of the Pequot tribe who were in the fort were killed, mostly burned to death. (10)

The survivors in the Pequot tribe, living throughout Connecticut, blamed Sassacus for the defeat at the fort in Mystic. The disgraced sachem fled with some followers to the island of Manhattan. His departure significantly weakened the Pequot, fracturing their nation into smaller groups, which became vulnerable to neighboring tribes from which the Pequot had once exacted tribute.

A month after their defeat at Mystic, the remaining Pequot were captured

by the English. The Hartford Treaty of 1638 divided the Pequot population between the Mohegans and Narragansett. "The Pequots were then bound by Covenant, that none should inhabit their native country, nor should any of them be called Pequots anymore." (11)

Wampum, Trade, and Conflict

The Pequot War also resulted in the devaluation of wampum as a form of legal tender among the colonists. The Dutch discovered the profits that could be derived from the exchange of cheap shell beads for valuable beaver furs. By 1627, the English began to compete with the Dutch in a "wampum-for-furs" trading triangle: (1) European cloth was exchanged for wampum made by coastal tribes. (2) Europeans then traded with inland tribes, exchanging wampum for furs. (3) These luxurious animal pelts brought huge profits overseas in Europe, and a small portion of the profits could be used to purchase cloth, starting the cycle over. Competition also came from native entrepreneurs such as the Pequots, "whose geographic location between coastal wampum and hinterland furs ... placed them in a monopolistic position." Their production and control of wampum supplies from less powerful coastal bead makers, English observers wrote, made [the Pequot] "rich and potent" by 1627, and a "stately and warlike people" by 1634." (12) (Note that the English first refer to the tribe as "warlike" in the same year that the Dutch trader kidnapped, ransomed, and killed Pequot Chief Tatobem for wampum.)

In 1637, just months before declaring war, the English had adopted the use of wampum as legal tender. After defeating the Pequot, the English devalued wampum from three to six beads per penny. The colonists, now in control of the bead making, used "wampum-for-fur" to pay off their European debt. (13)

The Pequot quickly and quietly broke their covenant with the English by returning to their former homes in Connecticut. Those living with the Mohegans in the west crossed over the Thames River to their former fishing territory at Noank (14) and those under Narragansett domination in the east crossed over the Pawtucket River to Stonington, Connecticut. By the mid-1660s, the Western Pequot had been granted 2,000 acres called Mashantucket in the town of Ledyard and, in 1685, Connecticut Colony purchased an additional 280 acres near Lantern Hill on Long Lake for the Eastern Paucatuck Pequots. (15) Thus, the stage was set 300 years ago for land claims in the 1960s and law suits in the 1970s, suits that led to federal recognition, land and cash settlements, and the rights of sovereignty that allowed, at the end of the 20th century, for Indian gaming on reservations in Connecticut.

The Road to Wealth and Happiness?

Following the precedent set by other tribes (the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy of Maine), the Mashantucket Pequot brought suit in federal court in 1976, claiming that all but 180 acres of their land had been illegally sold at auction in 1856. The tribe argued that the auction sale was a violation of the Indian Trade and Intercourse Act of 1790, which stated that Indian land could not be taken without federal approval. (16) Their claim was settled in 1983 when the state of Connecticut agreed to contribute $900,000 to a trust fund and to restore their 2,000 acre reservation. Federal legislation approved the settlement and extended recognition to the Mashantucket Pequot tribe. Some residents of North Stonington, the town just outside the reservation, were angry that the tribe received Federal Recognition directly from Congress rather than through the BIAs Federal Acknowledgement Process. Five years later, in 1988, the U.S. congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), which recognized Indian tribes' authority to engage in gaming operations on reservation lands in order to promote tribal economic development. (17)

The Mashantuckets wanted to expand their bingo operation into a gaming resort, but they needed to borrow money to build it. Indian land is held in trust by the US government, so tribes cannot use it as collateral to obtain financing (that is, they cannot use reservation land as a guarantee to back a loan). They were obliged to find alternative financing. It was easy. Investors from Asia saw that the beautiful wooded reservation was located only two hours by car from either Boston or New York City, which would provide gaming customers. These investors created a business (a subsidiary realty company) to finance what would become the biggest casino in the world. (18) Further expansion entailed negotiating with the state of Connecticut for casino-style gambling, including slot machines. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act disallowed such activities except in states where it was already legal. This new obstacle was also overcome when the Mashantuckets offered the state of Connecticut 25 percent of the slot machine earnings, which the state government could use to balance its budget. (19)

When Foxwoods opened its doors in 1992, New England was gripped in an economic depression. Businesses and factories that had thrived for 150 years were shutting their doors and laying off workers. It seemed like Indian Gaming, sponsored by the Pequot, might be Connecticut's best hope to bolster a flagging economy.

Not Synonymous: "Mohican" and "Mohegan"

James Fenimore Cooper confused things a bit. His 1826 historical fiction Last of the Mohicans romanticized the Mohegans, not the Mohicans.

The broad rubric "Mohican" includes two large groups of Eastern Indians, the Mahicans (Mohican or Stockbridge) and the Mohegans (including the Pequot, Niantic, Metoac or Montauk, and Narragansett). The various Mohegan tribes were distinct at the time of European contact, but were driven together by colonial pressures. The Mahicans, though given a confusingly similar name, have always considered themselves a different people. They were forced to emigrate to Wisconsin and joined the Munsee there as Stockbridge Indians. Today there are about 6,000 Mohegans in the eastern United States and about 3,000 Stockbridge Indians in Wisconsin.

--Native Languages of the Americas (

Questions and Ideas for Further Research

1. Make a timeline of Pequot history, from the first major conflict between Indians and settlers, to the opening of the Foxwoods Resort. Do this by reading the article slowly, writing down on index cards any years mentioned and what happened in that year. Then sort the stack of cards by year. You can now spread your timeline out along the wall.

2. How was the geographic location of Connecticut exploited economically by, Indians and non-Indians in the 1600s? How is Connecticut's location economically beneficial in the present?

3. This article was written in 2000. What has happened since that time? Visit useful websites (listed on page M5) and seek out printed material at your public library to gather information for answering the following questions:

a) Has the Foxwoods Resort resulted in economic development for the Pequot?

b) Have new jobs and tourist dollars continued to aid New England's economy?

c) What problems or challenges have arisen due to the introduction of high-stakes gambling to the region?


(1.) "New Book on Mashantuckets Prompts Call for Probe," The Sun (Westerly, RI, April 28, 2000): 1.

(2.) "Business Deal by Tribe Clouds Recognition Quest," The Sun (Westerly, RI, April 19, 2000): 4.

(3.) "Towns Differ with BIA on Recognition of Tribes," The Sun (Westerly, RI, March 28, 2000): 1.

(4.) Jeff Benedict, Without Reservation: The Making of America's Most Powerful Indian Nation and Foxwoods, the World's Largest Casino (New York: HarperCollins, 2000). Parts of this book are especially controversial. Contrast with Hauptman and Wherry, note 7.

(5.) "BIA Wants Out of Tribal Recognition Business," The Sun (Westerly, RI, May 25, 2000): 1.

(6.) John Heckewelder, The History, Manners, and Customs of the Indian Nations Who Once Inhabited Pennsylvania and the Neighboring States (Philadelphia, PA: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1876), 51-53; John Deforest, A History of the Indians of Connecticut: From the Earliest Known Period to 1850 (Hartford, CT: W.J. Hamersley, 1851), 59-66; Frank Speck, Native Tribes and Dialects of Connecticut (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1928), 216. Speck refers to Fedelia Fielding, last speaker of the Mohegan language, and Emma Baker, Mohegan Medicine Woman, as corroborating sources for the legend.

(7.) Lynn Ceci, "Native Wampum as a Peripheral Resource in the Seventeenth-Cenvary World-System," in Laurence M. Hauptman and James D. Wherry, eds., The Pequots in Southern New England: The Fall and Rise of an American Indian Nation (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990), 60.

(8.) John Mason, A Brief History of the Pequot War (Boston, MA: S. Kneeland & T. Green, 1736), x.

(9.) John Deforest, 30. Deforest explains that blood purity was highly regarded because leadership was usually inherited from father to son and "if male heirs were wanting, upon the females." However, the extent of a sachem's power was determined by his abilities. The European terms, "noble" or "royal," might describe the relationship of certain families to their tribes.

(10.) Laurence Hauptman, "The Pequot War and Its Legacies," in Hauptman and Wherry, 73; John Deforest, 59; John Mason, 14. Mason does not specifically state that the individuals in the fort at Mystic were old men and women, but he does mention that Sassacus and his men were not there that morning and were found later at another pequot fort.

(11.) John Mason, 18.

(12.) Lynn Ceci, 59. See also the description of wampum in this issue of MLL, p M4.

(13.) Ibid., 61.

(14.) The Pequot, who became subjects of the Mohegans, were granted fishing privileges in Noank on the coast of the old Pequot territory not far from Groton. The people who moved there are sometimes called the Pequots of Groton. They were later granted hunting rights in Mashantucket near Ledyard, Connecticut, from which they derived their present name, the Western Mashantucket Pequot. The Pequot placed under Narragansett authority in Rhode Island to the east moved back across the Pawcatuck River to Stonington, Connecticut. They are sometimes known as the Pequots of Stonington and have developed into two groups, the Eastern Pequot and the Paucatuck Eastern Pequot.

(15.) Jack Campisi, "Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, 1637-1975," The Pequots in Southern New England, 119 (see note 7).

(16.) Ibid., 140.

(17.) William N. Thompson, Native American Issues: A Reference Handbook (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1996), 54.

(18.) J. Benedict, 215.

(19.) Ibid., 245.

Barbara Beaucar is archive project assistant at the Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania. She wrote this article while earning an M.A. in the Department of History at West Chester University in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
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Title Annotation:case study
Author:Beaucar, Barbara
Publication:Social Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2003
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