How One 'Tribe' Struck It Rich; the Pequots' Success Made Them Unlikely Millionaires

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 21, 2003 | Go to article overview
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How One 'Tribe' Struck It Rich; the Pequots' Success Made Them Unlikely Millionaires


Byline: Philip Burnham, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

"Hitting the Jackpot" tells a very old story and a very new one. The old one is that most treasured of American fantasies - to strike it rich one day and live happily ever after. The new one concerns a group of people whose good fortune has made them the most unlikely of millionaires, an unruly bunch of nouveau riche "Indians."

This book is only the latest in a series of investigative exposes of the Mashantucket Pequot tribe of Connecticut. Nothing breeds suspicion like big success, and Brett D. Fromson, a financial journalist with a keen eye for the bottom line, has written a deft and concise account of the commercial rise - and moral fall - of a tribe once thought to be extinct.

Thirty years ago, any self-respecting student of native history would have been hard put to even locate the Pequot. But, in 1975, a savvy man by the name of Richard "Skip" Hayward, perhaps no more than 1/64 Pequot himself, saw a way to pull himself out of a blue-collar dead end by manipulating government policy and playing on public sentiments of "Lo, the poor Indian."

In short, this is the story of a tribe, almost annihilated in the 17th century, whose distant (and supposed) descendants banded together more than 300 years later to convince first the state of Connecticut, then the Department of Interior and the U.S. Congress, that they were a legitimate tribal entity with sovereign status in matters of negotiating gaming contracts. The rest, as they say, is history.

The author has done his homework. The book draws from interviews with Pequot bigwigs like Hayward and Kenny Reels, as well as rank-and-file tribal members, wealthy business associates, and even former U.S. Senator Lowell Weicker, a reluctant ally in the rebirth of the tribe. Credit Mr. Fromson with having collected a lot of candid remarks (though many unattributed) about the ascent of a meteoric American phenom that almost makes Cornelius Vanderbilt look like a slowpoke on the legendary road to success.

The writing is succinct and informative, and it cultivates something of a staccato Law and Order tempo, taking pains not to venture beyond necessary facts. This is a straight-ahead reporter anxious to nail a story with a minimum of frills and digressions. That makes for both a quicker read and a more slender story.

Mr. Fromson, mind you, isn't the first to cover this beat. Jeff Benedict's flashy but flawed "Without Reservation" (2000) and Kim Isaac Eisler's more sympathetic "Revenge of the Pequots" (2001) have traced, in considerable detail, a story that more resembles a made-for-TV-movie than a tribal genealogy. Since "Hitting the Jackpot" is less pugnacious than the former and more focused than the latter, it's a useful addition to the literature.

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