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The Pequot Indians first settled in what is now southeastern Connecticut. The Pequot tribe's warlike nature is reflected in its name, which means "destroyer" in the Algonquin language. Today, descendants of the Pequot operate the largest casino in the world.
The tribe originally farmed squash, beans, tobacco and corn; they also fished and hunted for meat and fur. The Pequot tribe were fiercely protective of their territory and fortified their villages. More so than many other Native American tribes, the Pequot were centrally organized through the tribal council. This structure allowed them to organize lightning raids on nearby tribes.
Dutch settlers first came into contact with the Pequot tribe in 1614, when they began to explore and trade east of the Hudson River Valley. The Dutch, as well as the English and the French, saw great potential in the fur trade and established a post near Hartford in 1622. Rich American furs were in high demand in Europe, and Native Americans traded for cloth, brass cookware, glass beads, and tools.
Although the Dutch wanted to trade with all the local American Indian tribes, the Pequot tribe wanted total control over the lucrative fur trade. They scuffled with other tribes and struck deals with the Dutch traders. Ironically, increased contact with Europeans severely weakened the Pequot; diseases like smallpox may have claimed half the Pequot population.
Meanwhile, English merchants began setting up their own trading posts in order to deprive the Dutch of some of their trading revenues. The Pequot tribe intended to control these outlets too. Their tactics — ambushing rival Indian traders and murdering European merchants — outraged both Native Americans and white settlers.
Retaliatory fighting escalated on both sides until the outbreak of the Pequot War in 1637. An English soldier named Captain John Mason led a party of 400 European and Native American fighters to the Pequot encampment. The Pequot fighters had left to raid white villages near Hartford. Mason's forces shut 700 Pequot women, children and elderly in a fort and burned it to the ground. English soldiers killed the escapees.
Combined with the effects of disease, the Pequot War effectively spelled the end of Native American resistance to European settlement in the area. The numbers of Pequot dwindled; in 1910, there were only 66 left. Numbers rose during the 20th century, however, and a favorable court ruling in the 1970s won them $700,000 US Dollars (USD) in reparations. The Pequot tribe invested this money in a gambling operation named Foxwoods Casino. The casino is the largest in the world, and has has helped make the tribe the wealthiest in the US.
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