The Hartford Courant, December 3, 2000
No book in my 30-year recollection of Connecticut news has had more impact than Jeff Benedict's "Without Reservation: The Making of America's Most Powerful Indian Tribe and Foxwoods, the World's Largest Casino.''
Instantly, after it came out late last April, front-page stories appeared reporting the book's assertion that the Mashantucket Pequot tribe, Foxwoods' owner, was of suspect legitimacy. The notion that gambling-enriched eastern Indians are not real Indians was, of course, hardly new. It was most loudly expressed years ago by Donald Trump, when that developer, casino hungry himself, scoffed at the Pequots.
Benedict, however, trumped Trump. His book purportedly contained genealogical proof the Pequots were not Pequots. It even argued that Elizabeth George, the Pequot matriarch legendary for defending the tribe's reservation in the town of Ledyard with a shotgun, was most likely a Narragansett. It followed therefore that her grandson, Richard "Skip'' Hayward, who had been elevated to visionary status for leading the Pe-quots back from the brink of extinction, had no rightful claim to the tribe's heritage. "Without Reservation,'' in fact, opened provocatively with an account of Hayward filing for a wedding license in Groton and identifying himself as "white.''
Incited by Benedict's book, leaders in the towns of Ledyard, North Stonington and Preston -- towns threatened by the wealthy Pequots' expansion plans and by their ambitious cousins, the Eastern Pequots and Paucatuck Eastern Pequots (a tribe whose own casino plans are backed by the Donald, among others) -- began to demand a congressional investigation, appealing to President Clinton and U.S. Rep. Sam Gejdenson. For their part, the Pequots consulted O.J. Simpson's lawyer, Johnnie Cochrane*, about the possibility of suing Benedict.
But Benedict challenged more than the Pequots' legitimacy. Over the book's first hundred or so pages, Benedict recounted the maneuvering of two lawyers, Tom Tureen, the Indian rights attorney who in 1976 sued to regain 800 acres that until 1855 had been part of the Pequot reservation, and Jackson King, whom the bewildered and blindsided local landowners hired in their defense.
Eventually, in the course of his narrative, Benedict brings Tureen, King and Hayward together in the spring of 1982 in a Senate meeting room in Washington, D.C., where alone they draw a map giving back to the poor Pequots not just 800 acres, but an extra 1,000. A year later, Gejdenson and then-Sen. Lowell Weicker, presumably unwittingly, lead Congress to pass a settlement act that gives the Pequots crucial federal recognition as a bona fide Indian tribe and a reservation, Benedict asserted, more than double the size intended.
The map, and the suspicious circumstances under which it was drawn, became the second sensational revelation of "Without Reservation.'' Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, an opponent of Indian expansion, wanted the original map found. Benedict hinted he knew where it was, but wasn't saying.
Subsequently, other "missing'' documents became the subject of contention. One, a 150-year-old court petition supportive of the Pequots, had disappeared from state archives. If anything, Benedict's book grew more controversial with the passage of time, rather than less.
On Sept. 19, roughly 1,000 people came to listen to him speak at Ledyard High School -- a crowd so large it must have set a record for any meet-the-author-night. According to the Amazon.com Web site, Benedict outsold Harry Potter in southeastern Connecticut towns. At the high school, Benedict invoked George Washington and Jesus Christ as models of courage and honesty. The mostly adoring audience cheered loudest when Benedict said the Pequot casino stood on land that ought to be taxed. Earlier the same day, he had met with producers who had optioned his book for a movie.
Then the next week, the questions Benedict almost single-handedly managed to raise about the Pequots gained new urgency when the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the towns in their years-long legal effort to keep the Pequots from adding more land to their reservation.
In their decision, the judges wrote: "Motivating all of [the towns'] arguments is their final claim that a decision today in [the Pequots'] favor would theoretically make it possible ... to take into trust virtually all of southeastern Connecticut. And indeed, we find nothing in the Settlement Act itself that would prevent such a result.''
The ruling (which last week Blumenthal said he would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court) fanned the towns' worst fears, and they renewed their calls for a congressional investigation. This time, Gejdenson, who was in a tight (and finally losing) race for re-election, responded by suggesting that former Maine Sen. George Mitchell be brought in to mediate the dispute between the towns and the Indians. Senators Christopher Dodd and Joseph Lieberman seconded Gejdenson's idea, but the towns rejected it. The offer of Mitchell may have been merely a face-saving gesture, but it indicated how deep the rifts ran in casino country. Mitchell's previous triumph as a mediator was in Northern Ireland.
In this tinder-dry climate, Benedict's book had exploded like a time-delayed bomb, calling into doubt events that had occurred 20 and even 150 years before. It won instant credibility. The tribe's attempts to rebut it only seemed to add to the book's power.
Oddly, for such an important book, it got few formal reviews. And not much attention was paid to Benedict himself or his methods. He seemed to morph from author to authority with no stops in between.
Meeting the Author
The controversy over his book was in a lull when, on a Saturday morning last July, I went to the Bookworm store in West Hartford Center to meet Benedict and propose a profile of the writer who had caused such a stir. Benedict was due there to speak and sign copies of his book.
At the time, I had only skimmed its pages. But I'd read enough to be skeptical. Benedict had written about past events in detail I doubted even the participants could have recalled. He'd reconstructed conversations and even put people's thoughts in quotes, a device acceptable in book publishing but taboo in newspaper reporting.
Most incredibly, he claimed in the book's bibliography to have done some 650 interviews and obtained 50,000 pages of documents from town halls, libraries, archives and courts. He had begun his research in June 1998 and finished writing his 358-page book 21 months later. He had done all this work while enrolled in the New England School of Law in Boston (he graduated a month after the book came out).
Furthermore, if he knew about it, Benedict seemed to give no credence to anthropologists' sympathetic view of New England tribes. Their reservations had been whittled away. Out of necessity they had intermarried with non-Indians and moved away to earn their livings. The historical proof they needed to qualify for federal recognition could be missing or cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to recover. The Bureau of Indian Affairs' acknowledgment system, established only in 1978, had come to be regarded as unpredictable and cumbersome. The Mohegans, for instance, the Connecticut tribe whose heritage remains least questioned, despite their fabulously successful casino in Montville, were once denied recognition.
Benedict's conclusions about the Pequot genealogy were crucial to his argument that the tribe could not have met the BIA recognition criteria. I was skeptical because I doubted anyone could make such a sure judgment in an area where even anthropologists, genealogists and judges disagree.
Such were the biases I brought to the Bookworm. Benedict arrived late and easily agreed to discuss the profile idea after he'd finished speaking to the handful of people waiting to hear him. To take advantage of the sunny morning, he moved his talk out onto the busy sidewalk. Soon he had 15 or 20 people listening to him. I promised not to take notes, but the theme of his message was familiar: Indian casinos were threatening to overrun Connecticut; the Pequots were above government regulation and taxation.
Benedict spoke for 45 minutes, confident and enthusiastic. In his photograph on the jacket of "Without Reservation,'' he is scowling, looking tough as a middle-weight boxer. In person, Benedict, who is 34, looked younger and leaner. His hair, receding in front, curled punkishly in back. And he was far friendlier than his photo.
When we sat down inside the Bookworm, I apologetically confessed my skepticism. Benedict smiled it away. He welcomed the idea of a profile, even one that critically examined the claims in his book. He seemed at ease with himself and entirely open. He told me one way he'd managed to write the book while attending law school was by skipping most of his final semester classes, relying on friends' notes and his own ability as a quick study.
Because of our schedules, we did not reconnect until just before his talk at Ledyard High in September. Eventually, after a plunge of my own into documents and interviews with some key figures in his book, I would decide my skepticism was justified, but not for the reasons I thought.
From the NFL to Foxwoods
Jeff Benedict grew up in Waterford, a shoreline town south of casino country. He said his parents divorced when he was one. His mother later re-married, started a new family, and converted to Mormonism. From age 8, he was brought up in that fast-growing faith.
Benedict said his faith is highly relevant to his life. In fact, he invited me to do an interview at the new Mormon temple outside Boston in Belmont, Mass. The church tithes its members, and Benedict was volunteering 20 hours a week to help with the temple's opening. The day we met there, he was in charge of visitor parking.
He also is devoted to family. In the time I spent with him, he often checked in with his wife, Lydia, by cell phone. They met in Seattle, where Benedict was sent on the two-year church mission expected of Mormon youth upon graduation from high school, then moved back East to establish themselves.
During much of one interview at the duplex they are renting while building a house in Newton, Mass., Benedict held his infant son, Clancy, on his lap. The afternoon of the Ledyard forum, he slipped into a private reception in his honor carrying Clancy in a portable car seat. He was trailed by his wife, their older son, Tennyson, and grandparents.
The reception was at the home of Sharon Wadecki, a Ledyard town councilor who is a leader of the local resistance to Pequot expansion. Wadecki's house sits inside the settlement area fixed by Congress in 1983, and it was apparent her guests saw Benedict as their champion.
"After his book came out I felt now somebody has sent us help,'' a member of Wadecki's Residents Against Annexation group told me.
His grandmother said, "I am proud of him, but I've been worried about him. When he thinks he's right, he'll never give up.''
Benedict said he observes the Mormon prohibition against alcoholic and caffeinated drinks, and also gambling. But he said his religious belief hardly influenced his writing of "Without Reservation.''
"The book doesn't express the social damage gambling causes,'' he said. "I was more intrigued by what political corruption and abuse of law does to people's lives.''
Nor, he said, did the importance of Indians in Mormon teachings affect his thinking. The Book of Mormon as revealed by its prophet Joseph Smith describes an ancient war that took place in North America between the Nephites and Lamanites, branches of a family that came here by sea from Israel before the birth of Jesus. It teaches that Christ visited North America after His resurrection, and that Indians descend from the Lamanites.
"The Book of Mormon and its account of the peopling of America never entered my mind working on Foxwoods,'' Benedict said. "I didn't believe I was writing about Indians. I was writing about impostors.''
Any personal bias that Benedict brought to "Without Reservation'' can be more surely connected to his law ambitions and his earlier books. But he did not start out to be either a lawyer or a journalist.
Benedict said that when he returned to Connecticut after his Mormon mission, he worked in a restaurant and dug foundations with his uncles, while attending Eastern Connecticut State University. He majored in history, but the career he first tried was in sports. He liked coaching youth teams and in 1992 took a chance as an unpaid assistant for the Northeastern University basketball team. "It wasn't family friendly,'' he said. He soon left for a job with less travel, as a researcher in Northeastern's Center for Sports and Society.
While working there, he got a master's degree in political science. His thesis led to his first commercial book, "Public Heroes, Private Felons: Athletes and Crimes Against Women,'' completed after he enrolled in law school in 1997.
"I was going to law school to become a U.S. attorney. I wanted to be in the courtroom prosecuting criminals. I always had an interest in law and the concepts of justice and mercy and the contradictions those two represent,'' he said.
His first summer, he interned in a district attorney's office that specialized in child abuse and sexual assault cases. He said he was so enthused by the work he could hardly wait to get out of school and into court. But then his agent called suggesting a book on professional football players with criminal records. Benedict gulped and agreed.
"I had nine months to write the book,'' Benedict said. "There's not a lot that makes me nervous, but the night I signed the contract, I was nervous ... I said to my wife, `I'm not sure we did the right thing.' We pray together every night. I'm sure that was the prayer that night. We decided, `What can we lose?' I want to be a prosecutor, not a writer.''
With a Sports Illustrated writer as co-author, Benedict produced the book on time. He'd skip Thursday-night law classes to squeeze travel for the book into long weekends and save air fare. The research skills he learned at Northeastern and in law school helped. Writing, he'd stay up past midnight working in the bedroom of their tiny condominium. Lydia would be exiled to their son's bedroom.
"I didn't miss a ton of school,'' Benedict said. "The funny thing is none of my professors knew what I was doing. None of them knew I had written a book and was doing another one.''
When he turned in the manuscript in May 1998, his editor at Warner Books told him, "Kid, you did good. If you want to write for us, you can,'' Benedict remembered.
"It was right then I decided I wasn't going to be a lawyer ... I thought I could achieve as a writer what I thought I was going to do as a lawyer and have a much bigger impact than I could in a courtroom.''
The book, "Pros and Cons: the Criminals Who Play in the NFL,'' was published the following fall. As "Without Reservation'' would, it touched a popular chord of resentment and got a lot of publicity. Benedict became a frequent guest on television talk shows, where he must have polished his impressive public speaking skills.
"Pros and Cons'' presaged "Without Reservation'' in other more troublesome ways, however.
Benedict said he originally thought he would construct his Indian book as he had his football book, like an indictment. "I was going to write like a prosecutor and just hammer away,'' he said.
But his new editor at HarperCollins thought the new book needed to be written in a more engaging way, emphasizing narrative and personalities. So Benedict changed his approach.
"I tried hard to keep opinion out of the book and let the facts tell the story,'' he said. "I tried painstakingly hard not to interpret what I thought should have been done stage by stage.''
"Without Reservation'' succeeds because it is told like a story. It is flawed because the story -- implying but not stating outright that Tureen, Hayward and King colluded to get the Pequots a reservation large enough for a casino -- is a disguised indictment. Benedict leaves out inconvenient facts or slides over them. He hides opinion in plain sight as declared fact.
"Pros and Cons'' provides an example of Benedict's mode of thought. Like "Without Reservation,'' it rested on a factual premise open to incendiary interpretation. For the book, Benedict and his co-author collected police data on 509 NFL players and found 21 percent had been arrested for serious crimes. The 21 percent figure was printed in italics on the book jacket. It was repeated often in news articles and shows, as if it were hard proof of the players' excessive lawlessness.
There was one problem. The book's appendix contained a note by a statistician who analyzed the data and found NFL players actually were arrested less often than men of similar age and race. After the book came out, the note was expanded into an article that appeared in "Chance,'' the magazine of the American Statistical Association. The authors were the statistician, Alfred Blumstein of Carnegie-Mellon University, and Benedict himself.
I should have been able to predict Benedict's response when I asked him about the "Chance'' article. "He amazes me. He can answer anything and nothing fazes him,'' Sharon Wadecki had told me. Benedict said he knew the article was being disseminated to discredit him. He called it "a red herring.'' He said Blumstein, who did not say the statistics were misused, was asked to review the data collected for "Pros and Cons'' before it was published.
"We found 21 percent. We didn't know what that meant,'' he said. "Blumstein found the number doesn't suggest NFL players get arrested at higher rates. He was focussing on assaults... So I said to my co-author and my editors, we have to publish what he says. Once we asked him, if we don't print what he says and the NFL finds out, we're dead.''
Benedict stood by his number nonetheless. "It's a very important statistic,'' he said. "You can't make more out of a statistic than what it is. It says 21 percent arrested for a serious crime, period. Now what does that mean? Should that matter? What I'm saying is that's far too high for a class of young men who are looked up to as role models.''
The facts in "Without Reservation'' are even more open to interpretation than a crime statistic.
Uprooting a Family Tree
Benedict opens his book with a you-are-there account of 21-year-old Skip Hayward and 17-year-old Aline Champoux filing for their marriage license at Groton Town Hall in June 1969.
Because Champoux was a minor, a parent had to sign a release form. In the book, Champoux is accompanied only by her mother. Her father Leo is said to be in a hospital, dying of lung cancer. But when I went to Groton to check the marriage records, the release form, supposedly filled out in the presence of a clerk, was signed Leo Champoux.
The documentary evidence to the contrary does not prove Benedict got the opening scene wrong. Leo Champoux's signature appears to be written in a woman's hand. When I contacted Aline Champoux by e-mail to ask her about the apparent contradiction, she wrote back that Benedict had noticed it, too, and that she could not honestly remember, given the emotion of the time, whether or not her father was with them in Groton. It is possible, she said, that her father was outside in the car, too sick to come inside, or that her mother signed her father's name.
Champoux, who was married to Hayward for seven years and had no children by him, now lives in Rhode Island, where she works as a hand on a commercial fishing boat. She did not retreat from what she told me when we first spoke -- the portion of Benedict's book about her and her marriage was completely accurate. Some of the book's more conventionally sensational passages recount episodes of Hayward's verbal and physical abuse. She spoke glowingly of Benedict, whom she referred to as Jeff. He was kind and understanding and the first journalist willing to listen to her story, she said.
Benedict told me the sections about the marriage were expanded at the urging of his editor after he submitted the first draft of his manuscript in late August 1999. He got it back around Christmas and thereafter drove Champoux to various locations from her time with Hayward with a tape recorder running on the dashboard of his car.
By itself the signature of Leo Champoux means little. But it is an example of Benedict's tendency to leave out information, of the vagaries of memory, and most of all that documents can mislead. On the book's second page, an official-looking facsimile of the license is set off in bold-face type. Its seemingly neutral testimony that Hayward identified himself as "white'' at the time is the first proof of many that Benedict deploys to imply that Hayward did not think of himself as an Indian.
I had checked the license because James Wherry, an anthropologist who began working with Hayward in the early 1980s and whom Benedict interviewed, told me that Benedict depended too much on simple vital records like the marriage license. In the past, he said, such forms may have allowed only two choices, black or white, and may have been filled out by the clerk.
Hayward's license in Groton Town Hall is typewritten. The handwritten forms from which the personal information is taken are not saved, a clerk told me. In his book, Benedict has Hayward and Champoux handing their forms to a clerk. But he says nothing about why Hayward may have chosen to identify himself as white.
In 1969, the Native American rights movement, an offshoot of the civil rights movement, was relatively young. Someone who thought of himself as an Indian may have chosen to identify himself as white as a matter of convenience.
Wherry, who is now executive assistant to Kenneth Reels, Hayward's successor as tribal chairman, said he doubted Hayward would remember what he put on the marriage license and suggested the choice was irrelevant anyway. (I did not seek an interview with Hayward, who has become famously shy of reporters and who did not grant one to Benedict.) Wherry gave the anthropologist's view that the "assignment of race'' to anyone is an arbitrary judgment based on cultural belief. "Race is a circumstance of self-identification. My understanding of American culture now is you can call yourself what you want. But if I say you're black or negro that's arbitrary and that's racist.''
In the past, Wherry said, town clerks may not even have recorded births and deaths in Indian reservations and visiting census takers used what he called the "brown bag'' test of race. They'd classify a person by how closely the skin color matched the bag. He said the numerous children of Cyrus George and Martha Hoxie, from whom Hayward and his fabled grandmother, Elizabeth George, are descended, were alternately identified as black and white on birth certificates.
The sources listed in the back of Benedict's book and the text itself suggest he relied mostly on town hall records and census reports for his genealogy. He traces the lineage of Hayward and his grandmother back through Martha Hoxie, citing the race given on birth certificates. He notes that Hoxie's mother, Jane Grant, was described as having "beautiful blue eyes,'' and that her father, John Hoxie, who probably had mixed blood, claimed to be a Narragansett.
The first criticism people like Wherry make of Benedict's genealogy is that it ignores Cyrus George entirely. Benedict disposes of him in a single line, writing that "Cyrus was one of the few blacks living in Ledyard in the late 1800s.''
To show otherwise, and to make the point that vital records must be read in tandem with overseer reports, newspaper obituaries and other kinds of documentary evidence, Wherry has handed an article reprinted from the Oct. 5, 1898 edition of the Day of New London. Headlined "Pequot Indian Murdered -- Brought Home Dead in Wagon by His Faithful Horse,'' the article is about Cyrus George. It reports that Cyrus had lived on the Ledyard reservation for many years and speaks benignly of his good-natured drunkenness.
Cyrus George's father was Austin George, an Indian whose Civil War record became the subject of a dueling documents debate after Benedict's book came out. On a local access television show, Kenneth Reels showed a doctor's report describing Austin as a Pequot wounded at the battle of Petersburg, Va.
Benedict later responded by saying other parts of Austin's war record described him as belonging to other tribes also. Benedict told me that mere residence on a reservation doesn't prove somebody is an Indian. "In my mind there's a series of tests that have to be met,'' he said. He also said it was "disingenuous and intellectually dishonest'' of Reels to show only one page of Austin's war record. "Don't give portions of a historical record and withhold substantial portions...'' he said.
This is a sin, however, of which Benedict himself is not free.
Benedict said he concentrated on the Hoxie line because some local people gave him a packet of material indicating that was the line through which Hayward traced his Pequot heritage. But he said he did do some research into the George line.
"When I looked at Cyrus George, did I see a reference to him being Indian? Yes. Not a Pequot, but an Indian,'' he said.
For different take on the Pequot genealogy, Wherry recommended a series of articles written by Maria Hileman, an editor at the Day. Around the time the casino opened, Hileman had overseen and written much of a multi-part history of the tribe. In response to Benedict's book, she wrote a long commentary piece and later published a package of articles that included a rough family tree for Hayward and Reels.
In her commentary, Hileman wrote: "It is not possible to conclude...that the Pequots are positively of Pequot descent, although the weight of the information in that direction is strong. But it is equally impossible to conclude, as Benedict does, that they are not.''
Hileman based her opinion in part on interviews she had done with Alice Brend, who at the time was the oldest surviving member of the tribe and who was Elizabeth George's half sister.
Hileman reported that Brend said their common grandmother was Jane Wheeler, who was half Pequot and half white, and that records suggest Jane Wheeler may be the same person as Jane Grant. Jane Grant was the "blue-eyed'' ancestor Benedict dismissed as white. Hileman faulted Benedict for ignoring the Wheeler line, especially since he listed Jane Wheeler's marriage license as one of the vital records he checked.
Hileman also based her opinion on the research of the late Eva Butler, a local genealogist who founded the Indian and Colonial Research Center in Old Mystic. Butler, who did her research in the 1940s and 1950s, left notes clearly indicating she believed Jane Wheeler Grant was the mother of Martha Hoxie, Hileman wrote.
Martha Hoxie was the Hayward ancestor whose lineage Benedict did trace. When I asked Benedict if he had consulted Butler's genealogy, he said that he had not. He said he never bothered to go to Butler's center because local people told him he'd independently gathered more material than was available there.
In a response to the early criticisms of his book, Benedict wrote an article for the Day titled "Without Apology'' that asked why the Pequots had not produced evidence of the Wheeler line, if it was important as Hileman said, and that his publisher was satisfied with his research. Benedict has said he did share his findings with James Lynch, an ethnic researcher who has done work for the towns opposed to annexation. Also, CBS had consulted a genealogist for a "60 Minutes II'' segment it did in May on the Pequots that included an interview with Benedict.
But by the time of our interviews, Benedict seemed to be retreating from the importance of genealogy. He said he wished the "60 Minutes II'' segment had focused on the map rather than the genealogy and that the book contained a disclaimer that there may be documents he didn't see.
"Genealogy is cloudy. You can fight all day and reasonable people can disagree about its meaning,'' he said.
Of Hileman, he said, "She can nitpick. She's got some legitimate points if you think the book should have been more documented in terms of genealogy. But we didn't.''
Benedict said he didn't intend to write an historical treatise. "It's an expose,'' he said. "It's a hard inside look at how this happened.''
In late September, speaking to an audience at Three Rivers Community College in Norwich, Benedict had said the Settlement Act was basically unjust.
"This was a little law for a little tribe that created a huge problem,'' he said.
"The BIA has a rule. The rule is a family doesn't make a tribe. This is not as much about genealogy as it is about tribalness. ... This is a story about people who fooled other people. ... They are on thin ice because they are a product of a sta-tute and not a product of history.''
Chasing the Chief
In shifting his emphasis to the Pequots' legitimacy as a tribe, Benedict was still pressing his same basic case: If the Pequots had had to pass muster with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, instead of Congress, they would not have qualified for federal recognition and could not have gotten their casino.
Congress began to consider the Settlement Act in 1982, during Ronald Reagan's first term. In his book, Benedict quotes Reagan administrators who opposed recognition and questioned the Pequot legitimacy. But he glosses over the fact that Connecticut had always recognized the Pequot as a tribe, and he does not report that in the end, the BIA, however reluctantly, found that persuasive.
In July 1983, after Reagan had vetoed an early version of the Settlement Act, John Fritz, a BIA official, testified that it would not object to its passage. Even though the department had only just received the tribe's petition for recognition, Fritz said, "They have presented what looks like a prima facie case because they have been in place on their reservation for the past 250 years.''
In his book, Benedict states flatly that the Pequots were extinct and implies that once Elizabeth George died in 1973, leaving the reservation vacant, no one was left who could even pretend to be a Pequot. He replaces George with Hayward and implies Hayward connived to create a new tribe from nothing.
But if he wants Hayward to be an impostor, Benedict would have to ignore some of the evidence in his own book.
In May 1973, Benedict has John Stevens, a Maine Indian working with Tureen, visit the reservation looking for Elizabeth George. Instead, he encounters Hayward. Benedict then reconstructs, in quotes, a brief conversation in which Stevens explains Tureen can help unrecognized tribes reclaim their land and asks whether there are any Pequots left.
Benedict records Hayward's answer: " `I'm a member of the tribe,' Skip claimed.''
The choice of the word "claimed'' instead of the more neutral "said'' is telling.
In the very next line, Benedict has Stevens wonder, "This guy is Native American?'' The italics are Benedict's. Is it possible Hayward could have grasped the potential benefits of a land claim from a single conversation with a total stranger and decided on the spot to pass himself off as a Pequot?
In any case, according to Benedict's own narrative, almost two years pass before Hayward has any further contact with the Indian rights activists. During that time, he has moved with Aline to Maryland and then Missouri, working at odd jobs and often living out of a camper. Their fighting gets worse until, in March 1975, Aline confesses she once had been unfaithful. For three days, Hayward shuts himself up in the camper. He emerges, spends two days making phone calls out of Aline's hearing, and then announces, "Aline, I'm going to rebuild the reservation.''
Aline goes with him and they remain together another year. In the book, Aline recounts that she'd heard Hayward talk vaguely about moving back to the reservation, but never took him seriously. Upon his return, Hayward phones Stevens. In April 1975, he meets Tureen for the first time. In August, he gathers at the reservation a group of 20 or so people somehow related to Elizabeth George. He informs them of Tureen's plans for a lawsuit and tells them they need to start identifying themselves as Indians and acting like a tribe, Benedict reports.
"That meant a tribal constitution had to be drafted, leaders had to be elected, and membership rolls had to be created, in order to show that the tribe was populated. Most importantly the tribe had to establish residency on the reservation,'' he writes.
A new constitution, drawn up by Tureen, may have been adopted that day and Hayward selected as "the newly organized tribe's'' leader, but it was not as if, as Benedict implies, the tribe had no previous structure.
Wherry said Elizabeth George's brother, Amos George, assumed leadership of the tribe after her death, and the tribe adopted an early constitution in 1974. When Tureen filed the land claim lawsuit in May 1976, Amos George was named before Hayward as a plaintiff.
Wherry said Hayward, in trying to regroup the tribe, worked from membership lists given to him by Brendan Keleher, the first coordinator of the state Indian Affairs Council, an oversight body created in 1973. Now the city treasurer in Burlington, Vt., Keleher was a graduate anthropology student at the University of Connecticut when he took the state job.
"I have no question in my mind about the question of Skip Hayward and his family and his ties to that property,'' Keleher told me in a phone interview.
"To me, I saw an identity with that land and with being Indians, although how they described themselves was as a family, and not being part of the Indian civil rights movement. I saw that changing over time.''
Keleher said Amos George was the tribe's first representative on the Indian Affairs Council, and that the first dispute he had to mediate as council coordinator was a complaint from Ledyard that one of Hayward's sisters had parked a trailer on the reservation.
Keleher said he read Benedict's book soon after it came out and he considered it "unfortunate'' because it had gained such authority.
"To me, the writer didn't demonstrate a great deal of understanding of Indian history; the complexity of what I always described as the tri-racial community of Indians in Connecticut,'' he said.
If Benedict was aware of the kind of complexity Keleher spoke of, he seems to have chosen to ignore it.
He said when he first approached the tribe for interviews, he encountered public relations barriers similar to the ones put in his way by the NFL when he was researching "Pros and Cons.''
"They wanted to know what questions are you going to ask. They said would you send us a fax,'' he said. "It was amazing the walls I ran into. Frankly, it made me mad. I felt they weren't being genuine and they weren't being sincere.''
Benedict said the tribal council denied his requests for interviews, telling him he did not understand their culture. He was especially irritated to be instructed to read "The Pequot in Southern New England,'' a collection of anthropological essays co-edited by Wherry, before being allowed a tour of the reservation. He was irritated even more when he discovered his tour guide hadn't read the book.
Benedict said he did do his homework, however.
"I read the book and cut it apart,'' he said. "I got pumped up when I read that book. I have an academic background. I've got a law degree. ... I thought this is the most flimsy piece of scholarship I've ever seen. ... I'm literally writing comments in the margins. I'm thinking to myself, what reservation [are they] talking about?''
When I pointed out the book was published in 1990, when the Pequots only had a bingo hall, Benedict barely paused.
"That's true,'' he said. "I'm looking in 1998. That's not what I see...''
Earlier, Benedict had told me he vividly remembered his first impressions.
"I saw this huge edifice and I saw this huge public relations apparatus ... I saw $40,000 vehicles, but I didn't see an Indian tribe. That's an image I carry with me,'' he said. "I didn't see an Indian tribe.''
X Marks the Spot
Benedict said he first got the idea for "Without Reservation'' in May 1998 after meeting with his "Pros and Cons'' editor to discuss his next project. The editor wanted something political, and Benedict thought to ask himself a simple question: How did the world's biggest casino end up on an Indian reservation in Connecticut?
Anyone who diligently followed the news since 1985, when the Pequots first proposed building a bingo hall, might have thought they could answer that question. The casino got here because the state kept losing anti-casino battles in court, because it meant New England gamblers no longer had to go all the way to Atlantic City or Las Vegas to get their kicks, and because then-governor Weicker, who fought gambling tooth-and-nail, gave the Pequots a slot machine monopoly to keep non-Indian casinos out of the state.
Benedict, however, was young and not living in Connecticut during some of that time. In the book's acknowledgment section, he writes that he had never even seen a picture of Foxwoods before starting the book and describes how, on his very first day of research, he spent six hours reading through news clippings at the East Lyme library to stimulate ideas.
In the library that day his alarms began to ring, Benedict told me, when he saw one story about Weicker opposing gambling and another placing him at a Pequot ribbon cutting. From that point on, his suspicions only deepened.
He was astounded, he said, when he came across the case of the Mashpee Indians of Cape Cod, another of Tureen's clients, who in 1976 lost their land claim after a jury ruled they did not meet the legal definition of a tribe. Benedict wondered why Jackson King had failed to use the Mashpee case in defense of the Ledyard landowners.
His suspicions hardened fast after he found the map outlining the Pequot settlement boundaries. Benedict did not want to say how he found the map, but he did describe his excitement at seeing it for the first time.
He said he felt like jumping around and asked himself, "Am I being stupid and did everybody in Congress see this or did I just discover the weak link in the whole thing? If I were a newspaper reporter, I would have run to my editor and said we've got to put this on the front page.''
Benedict believed that the map drawn by Tureen, King and Hayward would be the major revelation of his book. In public he's said the map gave the Pequots a reservation larger than Congress intended, and he implies so repeatedly in the book.
But the settlement area and the reservation are not identical. Nor is the map's importance as obvious as Benedict claims. It is as open to interpretation as a crime statistic or a birth certificate.
In the crucial chapter, "The Mapmakers,'' Benedict writes that Peter Taylor, counsel to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, asked for a map after noticing that the bill pending in Congress in the spring of 1982 "did not describe the specific properties that were to become part of the newly created Pequot reservation.'' Benedict has Taylor ushering the three men into an empty room.
"As soon as Taylor left, they started creating the boundary,'' Benedict writes. "Using a red-tip marker, King started drawing a bright red boundary that took in the existing reservation (two hundred acres) and the defendants' land (eight hundred acres). But King did not stop there. He, Tureen and Hayward had been afforded a rare opportunity to design their own Indian reservation with no one looking over their shoulders. They were making law that would alter indefinitely the lay of the land in Ledyard, Connecticut. And no one --Ledyard residents or the politicians they had elected to represent their interest -- was there to watch or participate.''
Benedict follows King through the complete drawing of the settlement area on a Ledyard assessor's map (Benedict said he'd had King re-enact the event).
Concluding the scene, Benedict writes, "In an empty Senate committee room, two lawyers and the man who stood to benefit from their effort had created a tiny sovereign nation, complete with land that would be exempt from local, state and federal taxation as well as environmental and zoning regulations.''
So Benedict repeatedly refers to the map as creating a reservation. It is more neutral and accurate to say that the map only generally outlined the area in which the Pequot could buy land with some of the $900,000 they got as part of the 1983 Settlement Act.
As of today, the Pequot reservation consists of 1,392 acres, not 2,000, according to the tribe. Some land inside the settlement area remains in private hands, including 100 acres belonging to a farmer named Clifford Allyn. Since 1983, Allyn has turned down escalating offers from the tribe, the most recent reportedly for more than $10 million, a fact Benedict himself reports.
The issue raised by the towns and Benedict's map is whether there was supposed to be a limit on how much land the Pequots could buy to enlarge their reservation.
The recent Court of Appeals decision that analyzed the Settlement Act said, in part, "Nothing in the act indicates that Congress intended to establish the outermost boundaries of the tribe's territory.''
The tribe does own about 4,500 acres outside the reservation, but it pays taxes on that so-called "fee'' land. None of that land can be taken into trust -- that is, made part of the reservation -- without the approval of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. That is why the towns sued the Department of the Interior, not the tribe, to keep 165 acres of "fee'' land the Pequots own near the casino from being converted into trust land.
Wherry told me the BIA generally applies a geographical standard to land a tribe wants to annex. The further a piece of land is from an existing reservation, the less likely it will be taken into trust. For instance, he said, the BIA probably would not allow the tribe, if it tried, to annex the Mystic Hilton motel and the Norwich Inn and Spa, two commercial properties it owns in nearby towns.
Land bought within the settlement area can be annexed much more easily, but not automatically. Wherry also said much federal law, including environmental regulations, does apply even on reservation land. In a written response to Benedict's book, King said the BIA applies the same standards within the settlement area as without.
Wherry briefly repeated Tureen's and King's explanation of the logic behind the settlement area. It was larger than 800 acres because the agreement reached between the tribe and the landowners was that no one would be forced to sell.
"The area was drawn nice and big because Congress knew not everybody in that area would want to sell their land. We could have made it 6,000 acres. We thought 2,000 was enough,'' Tureen had told me.
With me, Wherry went over a copy of the settlement area map, parcel by parcel, adding up acreage. In 1976, the tribe still retained about 200 acres. The 800 acres sued for was adjacent to it, and at least two pieces of it remain in private hands, he said. Its owners were named in the suit because that land was the part of the reservation the state sold in 1855 for the benefit of the tribe. Mostly vacant in 1976, it now is the location of many tribal houses, Wherry said.
He said the casino sits partially on 245 acres, away from the original reservation area, the tribe purchased with Settlement Act money from a man named George Henry Pratt Main. He said some of Main's land included part of the Cedar Swamp, an area of historic significance to the Pequots. Wherry said the swamp at the time was unsurveyed and thought to cover hundreds of acres.
The Cedar Swamp and Main's land are important to understanding the map and Benedict's interpretation of it. Benedict says Tureen and Hayward were eyeing Main's land and other parcels that fronted on Route 2, a two-lane state highway, for their development potential. That may be true, but Benedict wrongly implies the drawing of the map was an exercise of free will -- or greed.
When the map was drawn, the land to be included in the settlement area already had been described with some specificity in the Settlement Act bill pending in Congress. Aside from some smaller parcels donated by the state, the settlement lands were defined as including the Cedar Swamp and the 800 acres that were the subject of the lawsuit.
Peter Taylor, the Senate committee lawyer who asked for the map, told me he wanted something that "roughly represented what we were talking about,'' meaning the Senate bill.
Taylor said, "the map I asked them to draw was not official with metes and bounds. It was just an informational piece.''
Taylor is now a partner in a Washington lobbying firm that has tribes among its clients. Like anyone on either side of the Pequot debate, he can be suspected of having a bias.
Tureen said Benedict's Route 2 theory, as expressed in the book, is a "fabrication.'' A bingo hall was only a dim possibility at the time, he said, and if a casino were dreamt of, it certainly would not have needed to front on Route 2. But Tureen did not deny wanting the most he could get for the Pequots.
"My goal was to put my clients in the position they'd have been in if they were treated fairly. They'd be rich and powerful landowners,'' he said.
To Washington and Back
One of the puzzles of the history of the Settlement Act is that it depended on companion legislation adopted in Connecticut. Passed in 1982 with virtually no debate, the Connecticut law loosely defined the reservation as the existing Pequot reservation and "those lands conveyed to or acquired by said tribe as part of the settlement of its land claims in the town of Ledyard.''
Apparently, Connecticut was leaving it to Congress to work out the details, because only Congress had the power to resolve the land claim. (At bottom, the Pequot land claim rested on the federal Non-Intercourse Act of 1790. The act had barred the sale of reservation land without federal approval, as Connecticut had done with the Pequots' 800 acres in 1855. In the mid-1970s, activist lawyers like Tureen won a series of court decisions extending the protection of the Non-Intercourse Act to eastern tribes.)
Benedict writes that the Connecticut law was based on an out-of-court agreement reached between Tureen and King. In public, he's said the state believed the Pequot would get only 800 acres, the amount of land the tribe sued for, and implied the state was duped. Then-Gov. William O'Neill has told the Day he understood the Pequots were to get only 800 acres. But other state officials have said their memory is blank on the subject and that the crucial law was passed in Washington.
Benedict quotes Gejdenson and Weicker telling Congress of the 800 acres, while failing to mention the Cedar Swamp, and implies anyone in Washington who bothered to look at the map would have missed its significance.
"Only someone very familiar with Ledyard geography would recognize that the map reflected 2,000 acres of settlement land, while the only acres referred to in the bill were the defendant's 800 acres,'' Benedict writes.
But even if Benedict were pinning the accuracy of that sentence on the word "acres,'' its meaning is tortured and misleading. Though the bill did not give its acreage, it clearly refers to the Cedar Swamp.
Benedict does not cite the actual language of the bill in his book until after dramatically describing the drawing of the map. The inclusion of the Cedar Swamp, he suggests, was hidden in fine print. At the end of the "Mapmakers'' chapter, he describes David Holdridge, one of the original landowners sued, reading a draft of the bill sent to him by King.
Benedict writes that Holdridge read the bill as he would "his first mortgage before signing on the dotted line.'' He has Holdridge noting the paragraph that mentioned 800 acres, but skipping over the very next paragraph that mentioned the Cedar Swamp.
Benedict writes that King did not enclose a copy of the map when he sent Holdridge the bill. The implication is that King withheld the map since Holdridge, unlike a congressman, would have recognized it covered more than 800 acres.
Someone Who'll Listen
Holdridge was not just any landowner. His family is prominent in Ledyard. His grandfather, a farmer, served in the State Legislature and his father, who started a garden supply business in the center of town, was a first selectman. Holdridge himself is a political science professor at what is now Three Rivers Community College. One of Benedict's key sources, Holdridge was a Ledyard councilman in 1976 and the liaison between King and the group of landowners who hired him.
It was for those reasons that I contacted Holdridge, rather than other landowners, to ask about Benedict's book. The first question I asked was whether he thought Benedict's book was accurate.
"Generally, I think so,'' Holdridge said. "We can find little things we could nitpick, but generally he's got the story pretty much correct.'' He said Benedict was very thorough and called back often to check details. Holdridge said he wanted to help Benedict because he appeared to be someone who finally was willing to listen to the landowners. "I thought this would be good, if someone would write a book that this was happening to us,'' he said.
Back in 1976, the landowners' appeals for help were turned away by the state. Governor Ella Grasso was sympathetic to the Indians, and so was the press. The Mohegans and the Schaghticokes had land claims older than the Pequots, and none of them got much coverage. The very idea of land claims seemed abstract.
Holdridge said his family owned about 80 acres of undeveloped land that they were thinking of subdividing into house lots. They eventually received $88,000 for the land, fair market value at the time. The land claim put the landowners in a bind because they could not sell their property with the claim pending, and fighting the case in court, assuming they could win, might cost them more than the land was worth.
Holdridge said he thought Benedict was rough on Jackson King. Though he would eventually become counsel to the tribe, King did what the landowners wanted at the time, Holdridge said. He negotiated a settlement.
Holdridge also said the landowners generally were more suspicious of the Pequots' legal right to reclaim the land than they were of their authenticity. In the scene in which Holdridge is served with the lawsuit, Benedict has him remark, "Skip Hayward? I never considered him an Indian.''
When I asked Holdridge about that quote, he said, "I think he took some liberties with that one. It may be I was making a distinction between Elizabeth George and Skip Hayward.''
I asked because Holdridge had told me earlier that Benedict "made up'' dialogue. As an example, he pointed to the suit-serving scene which was excerpted on the book jacket. "The sense generally is true,'' he said, "but if you asked me, `Would you swear those are your exact words?' I'd say, `No, I don't remember that.'''
However free Benedict was with quotation marks -- and he said he used them scrupulously, editing them only for grammatical clarity or sometimes combining quotes from separate interviews -- Holdridge agreed with his central premise. He said he and other landowners always presumed the tribe was to get only 800 acres and that he doesn't buy Tureen's explanation that the settlement area had to be larger to offset landowners who might not sell. In late summer, Tureen, who was re-hired by the tribe to respond to Benedict's book, had met with Holdridge to try to make that point.
"Yeah, that's what he told me a couple of weeks ago,'' Holdridge said. "It doesn't seem logical to me. As far as I know, only one of us was not willing to sell for a reasonable price. I think they're just using that as an excuse to add all this acreage and go over to Route 2.''
Holdridge also said he thought the Settlement Act was intended to set the final boundaries of the reservation. The tribe's right to add more land by purchasing it, as the courts have ruled, only makes him more suspicious.
"The argument now is no one suspected they'd have enough money [to buy more land],'' he said. "That may be true ... but why make a big push to include extra land if they thought they could expand anytime they wanted to?''
Holdridge said he thinks Benedict is right about the map.
"I think it's the biggest revelation in the book -- how that map was done,'' Holdridge said.
"We never saw the map. The people in Ledyard would have seen the map was way off,'' he said.
Real Estate Panic
Even if it were true that the map gave more land than intended to the Pequots and no one saw it who knew the difference, it is not true that the dimensions of the settlement area were kept secret from all the people of Ledyard.
A map with the exact same boundaries as one printed in Benedict's book appeared on the front page of the Norwich Bulletin on Oct. 20, 1983, the day after Reagan signed the Settlement Act bill.
Shadings show the reservation as it existed then and settlement lands stretching over to Route 2. The text underneath the map did not explain the significance of the settlement area. It did say the tribe would get $900,000 "to purchase 800 acres of land, formerly part of the reservation, but now privately owned.'' No source is given for the map printed in the newspaper.
Gejdenson's office has included the Bulletin map in a packet of other material rebutting Benedict's book.
In a telephone interview, Gejdenson scoffed at the notion that the Pequot were not legitimate and said the real urgency of resolving the land claim in Congress was to remove the cloud it placed over real estate sales.
"What I remember is there was a panic in the community where people couldn't sell their homes. You have to remember this was an area with a lot of military people. It created chaos. [The bill] didn't slip through in the dark of night,'' he said, mentioning Reagan's veto.
"These Indians wanted to grow tomatoes. ... They were living in trailers. These were poor people. The issue driving it for us was saving the homeowners and rectifying a little history here.''
He said the 800 acres was mentioned more often than other parcels in the settlement area because the bill gave its owners a capital gains tax break if they sold. He said nobody knew how big the Cedar Swamp was.
"Now this map was printed in the Norwich Bulletin in 1983 ... so the town has known for 17 years what the agreed-upon boundary was,'' Gejdenson said.
When I asked Benedict about the newspaper map, he was again unfazed.
"They're trying to say I'm making too much of the map. Their opinion is shared by nobody but them,'' Benedict said, referring to the state's interest in finding the original.
He said the newspaper map was printed too poorly to mean much and that the area covered by the map was still much larger than the land described in the Settlement Act.
"Tell me about the massive piece of land that goes up and down Route 2. Where's that stuff? It was not discussed. It was not on the table,'' he said.
In September, Benedict already had a good start on his next book. It is about another government/Indian dispute, this one over the Kennewick Man, a 10,000-year-old skeleton unearthed in Washington state. Local Indians claim the remains are those of an ancestor and want it left undisturbed, but some scientists think it pre-dates the Indian habitation of North America and have fought for the right to study it.
Benedict said he already had a hundred pages in rough draft and that he flew to Washington to begin his research in September 1999, after turning in the first manuscript of "Without Reservation.'' He said his new project may challenge the Mormon view of history and that his central characters will be the scientists who want to study Kennewick Man.
"It's David against Goliath, and there's hope David could win,'' Benedict said. "In `Without Reservation,' you knew Goliath was going to win because David was not paying attention, or David wasn't around.''
When I asked Benedict who he thought David was, he answered that in the beginning the landowners were David, and then as Goliath got bigger, the towns and the state became the David. "They all were inferior in terms of power and ability to the Mashantucket tribe,'' he said.
That, in my opinion, is the fundamental error Benedict made in his book. He was looking backwards. The Goliath towering over "Without Reservation,'' almost too big to see, was the U.S. government and its laws, a villain less popular to choose than the Pequots.
In their most recent decision against the towns, the Court of Appeals judges noted that: "Underlying the present dispute is the remarkable reversal of fortune that the Mashantucket Pequot have enjoyed in recent years. When the Settlement Act was enacted, the tribe was impoverished, with no obvious source of future income in sight.''
As a book author, Benedict has the license to second-guess judges, just as he has the license to interpret BIA rules and read maps the way he wants. When he went to Ledyard, he saw a casino and met people he thought didn't look or act like Indians. He decided something was wrong and, though he wrote his book like a story, he did not stop thinking like a prosecutor.
Benedict said the only place he let his opinion show in the book was in the epilogue, where he wrote that Congress ought to investigate the Pequots' legitimacy and, if it's found lacking, amend the Settlement Act.
Tureen, the attorney who used the law to revive the Pequots, said if Congress were to do that, it would be like breaking a treaty, as the government did so often in the past.
Tureen said he likes Benedict and agreed to be interviewed for his book because, like Holdridge and Aline Champoux, he was waiting for someone to tell what happened.
But Tureen, whose take on the story begins in the past, said Benedict got it wrong. In 1976, Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island all were battling land claims and people in Connecticut wouldn't have had to look far to find strategies for fighting the Pequots.
"The tone was set by Ella Grasso,'' Tureen said in one of several interviews.
"It's a wonderful thing. It's amazing they were so decent. It's one of the instances where white people didn't grind the Indians into the ground.''
Tureen said he sympathized with the landowners he sued and with the townspeople who now must live with the casino. He mentioned traffic and light pollution and the feeling they've lost control of their town.
"Ledyard is a nice area. I can understand the shock and horror that this behemoth grew up there. But when you measure that against what happened to American Indians, it's nothing,'' he said.
"The only thing the Settlement Act did,'' he said, "was take away the pain inflicted on these randomly selected victims who were atoning for the sins of the country, so to speak.''
Benedict, of course, might say the only thing the Settlement Act did was inflict pain on the people of Ledyard and their neighbors.
During the fall, he was not only working on his new book about Kennewick Man and pressing the case he made in "Without Reservation,'' he was making revisions for the paperback edition.
"It will pick up where the [hardbound] book left off. My hope is to have multiple new chapters,'' Benedict told me in late September.
"I have a mission to finish what I started,'' he said, undaunted and at the same time looking forward to finishing Kennewick Man.
"It's going to be more controversial than `Without Reservation,' '' he promised.
*Library note: the correct spelling is "Cochran."