By David C. Brooks - Originally Published November 1996
While most military histories of the Marine involvement in Nicaragua have focused on light infantry tactics, it's the political aspects of the Second Nicaragua Campaign that might provide the more relevant lessons.
When it comes to the history of the U.S. Marine Corps, few names stand out more than MajGen Merritt A. "Red Mike" Edson's. Famous for winning the Medal of Honor on Guadalcanal, Edson is also recognized for his leadership during the Rio Coco patrol during the Second Nicaragua Campaign (1926-33). Although several historians have treated the Rio Coco patrol, they mostly have emphasized Edson's composure in the face of natural hazards and determined opposition from Sandinista guerrillas or his creativity in employing light infantry tactics.1 Most of these accounts have not dealt with the unique political aspect of the mission. Yet this "other side" of the Rio Coco patrol is perhaps the more significant for today's Marines. Edson's story illustrates how the many campaigns of that era, together known by the trivializing term "Banana Wars," may have much to say to the Marines of today.
Though the link between the 1920s and the 1990s may not be obvious, the two eras share a basic similarity: The collapse of the United States' great power rival (in the earlier case imperial Germany, in the latter the Soviet empire) has led to a period of prolonged peace characterized by limited war and multiple forms of small-scale military engagement. Historically, the burden of these messy kinds of political-military missions has fallen heavily upon the U.S. Marines. Like their Banana Wars' ancestors, today's Marines have to carry out a variety of complex tasks-peacekeeping, hostage rescue, refugee support, drug interdiction, counterinsurgency, and combinations thereof-on the shoestring budgets typical of these periods of military retrenchment. In its own way, Edson's Rio Coco patrol illustrates how Marines in the past successfully adapted to similar exigencies. The full story of the patrol, however, also shows some of the stickier and unanticipated difficulties that accompany any effort at foreign intervention, even a relatively successful one.
Background to Intervention
Before discussing Edson's mission, it is important to recall the circumstances that brought about the Second Nicaragua Campaign. In 1926, a vicious civil war broke out in Nicaragua between the country's two rival political parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives. Washington responded, as it so often had in the past, by sending Marines to Nicaragua to establish neutral zones and protect U.S. lives and property.
Along with the Marines came Special Presidential Envoy Henry Stimson in May 1927. Stimson put forward a plan to get the warring factions to move their struggle from the battlefield to the ballot box. U.S. Marines would both train a new, nonpartisan Nicaraguan army, the Guardia Nacional, and would supervise a free election. Under pressure from Stimson, Liberal and Conservative leaders agreed to the American representative's plan-all save one. In May of that year, Liberal General Augusto C. Sandino rejected the U.S. sponsored scheme as unwarranted Yankee interference in his country's affairs and retreated into the mountains of the Nicaraguan north with about 200 men to launch an early "war of national liberation" against what he called Nicaragua's vendepatria (country-selling) elites and the U.S. Marines.
Within a year, the conflict had become a stalemate, locking itself into a pattern familiar to students of counterinsurgency. The Marines easily controlled the cities and towns of western Nicaragua. Sandino and his men, however, were masters of the rugged hills of Nueva Segovia. In addition, when pressed from Marine patrols, the Sandinistas could cross the mountains that divide Nicaragua and descend the Coco River, or Rio Coco as it is known in Spanish, which forms the border between Honduras and Nicaragua, and attack the country's Caribbean side-the site of many important U.S. and foreign investments. This region of Nicaragua, known locally as the Atlantic Coast, served as a kind of strategic rear for the insurgents.
The Marines recognized the military significance of the Atlantic Coast and moved into this zone in 1928, establishing the Eastern Area, under the command of Maj Harold H. Utley. Working under Utley was an innovative young captain named "Red Mike" Edson. In the \veeks before landing, Edson and his shipmates aboard the USS Denver eagerly followed the campaign in Nicaragua by studying a Christian Brothers map of the country that hung from the bulkhead of the ship's mess. At that time, Edson noted how the Rio Coco dominated the northern part of the country. A kind of Nicaraguan Mississippi, the Coco begins in Nueva Segovia, in the heart of what was then Sandinista territory, and runs more than 300 miles to empty into the Caribbean Sea at Cabo Gracias a Dios. Edson reasoned that the Marines might use the mighty Central American waterway to penetrate Nicaragua's difficult terrain and blindside Sandino, hitting him from a previously secure flank.
The Marines Land on the Atlantic Coast
Utley, Edson, and about 150 other Marines came ashore in January 1928. Almost immediately, Edson and several of Utley's other officers began a series of riverine penetrations, an experience that gave Edson the chance to try out his ideas about navigating the Coco. These first efforts became a test that his Marines would fail decisively. Edson himself later recalled what happened when the "can-do" attitudes of his men clashed with the realities of Central America's most formidable river. As he wrote:
While here [at Livings Creek on the Rio Coco] two men of the patrol made their first attempt at navigating a native dugout with a pole and paddle as they had seen the Indians do. [The two Marines] pushed out into the river, both paddling frantically, first on one side, then the other. The boat went round and round in circles until finally the current washed it ashore a mile or so down stream and the two men gave up the attempt and walked back. It was ludicrous enough but it was a fair example of what might be expected from men whose only experience with water craft had been as passengers in a ship's motor sailer.2
In contrast to the early and rather bumbling efforts of the Marines, the Indians were masters of the Rio Coco. As Edson described them:
[They] were taught to swim as soon as they were taught to walk, and once they could stand erect they found a pole and paddle thrust into their hands so that they could learn to navigate the native pitpan [dugout canoe].3
The natives that Edson referred to were Miskito Indians, members of an indigenous group that, along with their neighbors, the Sumu and the English-speaking black Creoles, made up the population of Nicaragua's Atlantic Coast. These different peoples constituted more than just a series of Nicaraguan ethnic groups. In fact, the Atlantic Coast was (and, some would argue, remains) a kind of submerged nation within Nicaragua that possessed distinct history, languages, and cultural rhythms from the rest of the country.
A Nation Within a Nation-State
At the time of the intervention, the Miskito made up the largest and most important population group along the Rio Coco. As a people, they have a singular and proud history. Unlike other Central American Indian groups, the Miskito successfully resisted Spanish conquest in the 16th century. Later, in the 1600s they made common cause with British buccaneers who found them useful allies in raids against the Spanish for their canoeing and maritime skills. This de facto Indian-English alliance would receive official expression in 1687 when British naval officers in Jamaica crowned the Miskitos' most prominent chief, Jeremy I. King of the Mosquito (the spelling commonly used by British of that time, as in Mosquito Coast).
For a little over two centuries, the Mosquitia, a separate kingdom with its own monarch, would remain independent from Nicaragua. Over time, the Indian society lost its military coloration as Moravian missionaries from Bethlehem, PA, and American and British companies like Standard Fruit moved into the area. Along with the foreign companies and the missionaries came small businessmen-many of them Britons, Germans, and Americans-who settled in the interior of the Rio Coco. They settled into the region, married Indian women, and set up trading posts, ranches, boat yards, and lumber supply areas along the river. These people, called "bamboo whites" by the Marines, shipped raw wood from inside Nicaragua to sawmills located at Puerto Cabezas on the coast. Both politically and economically, they would prove critical in the war with Sandino.
As a result of all these developments-missionary activity, the development of foreign owned "big businesses" along the coast, and the addition of a new strata of "bamboo businessmen" to the area's social structure-the Mosquitia remained more connected to the United States and the English-speaking Caribbean than to Hispanic Nicaragua. But if local history and economics pushed the coast in one direction, geopolitics moved it in another. Backed by pressure from the United States, Great Britain dropped the coast from protectorate status and officially ceded the area to Nicaragua in 1860. Since Nicaragua was too weak to exercise its claim, the coast remained in political limbo for decades until Nicaraguan President Jose Santos Zelaya sent troops into the area to capture Bluefields in 1894.
Despite military occupation by Spanish-speaking troops, the Indians continued to resent the Nicaraguans. The inhabitants of the coast also kept looking to Great Britain for support. In the years following the 1894 takeover, Black Creoles and Miskito Indians would pepper the British Foreign Office with petitions that asked the British to retake their territory, a tradition that would continue until the late 1950s.
Competing for Contacts
From the first, Edson worked hard to create a network of contacts that could help him win the cooperation of the local people. Fortunately, the area's social structure provided him with a natural "in" with the natives. Benny Muller, a bamboo businessman, was an American logger who had lived in the area since 1895. Through Muller, Edson:
met all of the influential people in this section and the chiefs of the larger settlements, and they in turn assisted in inculcating the ordinary Indian with the idea that we meant them no harm. . . .4
These same local notables also related to Edson the essentials of the Indians' history and culture, and he was quick to appreciate their implications for his own mission. As he wrote years later in the Marine Corps Gazette:
The Miskitos were inculcated from the time of their birth with a hatred of the Nicaraguans whom they called 'Spaniards' and so were potential allies if properly approached and handled. . . . By learning enough native words to make my wants known to them; by showing an interest in their mode of living; and by always treating them fairly, I believe that I succeeded in that part of my mission to establish cordial relations with the inhabitants.5
Despite his advantages, Edson's task would not be an easy one. Sandino, too, had recognized the Indian's importance and had taken steps to win their trust. In addition, the people of the coast had historically supported the Liberal Party, of which Sandino was a member, albeit a dissenting one. As Edson later recalled:
In his journey up the river in 1927, Sandino had treated the inhabitants of the river in a friendiy and conciliatory manner so that the feeling, not anti-American, was certainly not anti-Sandinista. Through his agents, Sandino exerted a distinct influence throughout the whole valley and he received tribute of both money and food from as far east as Bocay.6
Sandino, like the Marines, depended on Miskito help to move up and down the Rio Coco. One sign of the importance that the Nicaraguan guerrilla attached to the Indians' assistance was the able lieutenants whom he appointed to oversee his operations in this part of Nicaragua-Abraham Rivera and Adolfo Cockburn. Both were intimately familiar with the Rio Coco and performed services for Sandino that resembled those Muller carried out for Edson. Thus, the miniwar for the Rio Coco quickly became less a contest for territory and more a political one for the loyalty of people whose skills either side would need to control the region.
When in the Mosquitia, Do as the Indians Do
Soon after arriving on the Atlantic Coast, Edson suggested his idea for a long-range patrol up the Rio Coco, but this was at first rejected by the Marine command. In the meantime, he worked to extend his relations with the local people. Perhaps the most interesting facet of his efforts at this stage was his attempt to imitate the Indians and get other Marines to do the same. When he had the opportunity, Edson traveled with the Miskito in their canoes. In letters home, he recounted how he enjoyed shooting the Rio Coco's white water rapids with the Miskito. As his correspondence shows, however, canoeing with the Indians constituted more than mere sport. By learning how to handle a fast-moving pipante, Edson and his men were later prepared when local help proved hard to find. As he wrote to his wife in early June 1928:
On the 2d . . . Linscott, eight enlisted and myself left Kalasanoki by boat and came down to Bocay. There is no trail down the river, so we came down to look it over. Due to the shortage of Indians, a corporal of my outfit and I paddled down in a small boat. . . . You should have seen us shooting rapids-almost as good as Indians. It was a great trip and rather thrilling in spots.7
Patrols overland also benefited from the Miskito example. In a letter to his son, Austin, written in May 1928, Edson described how the Marines had adopted camping techniques from the Indians:
You are probably asking if these Indians live in tents, aren't you? They do not use tents, but leantoos (sic) when stopping for only a few days. These lean-toos are made like this. Four bamboo poles are cut and tied together at the top. Then on the side towards the wind where the rain will come, they put up a roof or a wall of leaves something like this. [Illustrated in letter.] The floor is the sand, and their beds are made of big green banana leaves laid on the sand. Then they put down a blanket from the bark of a tree, and that is their sleeping plan. It is not a bad bed either, for your Daddy has slept several nights just like that.8
The Rio Coco Patrol
In July 1928, the Marine command decided to launch a patrol up the Rio Coco to take Poteca, Sandino's headquarters 350 miles into the interior of Nicaragua. This was a formidable task. First, the mission would take place at the height of the rainy season, when the Coco becomes a raging torrent that can rise as much as 20 feet, often tearing trees from its banks and hurtling them downstream with deadly force. All supply would be cut off except by air, and even that contact would be intermittent during stormy weather, in addition to natural obstacles, the Marines would also face the prospect of ambush by Sandinista guerrillas in the interior. On 26 July 1928, Edson set out with 46 other Marines and their Indian guides and oarsmen from Bocay to take Poteca.
Under these conditions it became essential to win local cooperation if the mission was to succeed. Edson found that despite his successes with the Indians down the river, those who lived closer to Poteca were more wary of the Marines. This often resulted in a shortage of willing Indian boatmen, and forced the Marines into a "stop and go" pattern in their advance.9 Still, Edson instructed his men to approach the river people in a friendly way, even though some had aided Sandino in the past.10
Utley backed Edson's patient approach. Although this slowed the advance, he realized that the Marines had to consider the Miskitos' delicate political situation, sandwiched as the Indians were between the forces of the intervention and those of Sandino. In a letter to the Marine command in Managua written in August 1928, he justified Edson's slow pace in political terms:
It appears that we are approaching one of the delays due to lack of transportation which while I anticipated, are nevertheless heartbreaking. . . . We are . . . handicapped by two factors; the lack of boats and the disinclination of the indians (sic) to go into the zone of operations. We can get enough to operate all the boats we have as far up as Bocay but it is difficult to get them to go farther then that. Impressment only serves to kill the goose that laid the golden egg, as it means that in the future the approach of Marines is the signal for abandoning of the towns and houses. We have been at some pains to establish a feeling of confidence among the indians (sic) and hope that the situation will improve. The fact that Edson did not have any of his indians hurt was an important factor and I took pains to broadcast that information down the river as well as at Bocay.11
Delay was a small price to pay for good relations. Edson did resort to impressment on occasion, but his general treatment of the Indians appears to have been good. As he moved into the interior and captured Indians who had worked for Sandino, he had them disarmed, questioned, and then released in keeping with his attempts to win their favor.12
Edson and Utley's gradual and humane approach to the Indians of the Rio Coco contrasted markedly with the way that at least some Marines treated Sandinista "collaborators" in Nueva Segovia on the other side of Nicaragua. There, the burning of the houses of guerrilla sympathizers and the loss of many prisoners "shot while attempting to escape" took place frequently enough that it compelled the Marine command to issue orders in 1928 and 1931 asking for restraint in dealing with the locals and prohibiting the destruction of homes.13 In 1930 the Marines in this region also tried to resettle villagers by force into secured zones, an effort that was called off when Matagalpa and Jinotega became flooded with refugees.14 In part, the Marines in Nueva Segovia resorted to harsher policies because they were engaged in a shooting war when Edson and Utley faced primarily a political situation. Nonetheless, the contrast between the Marine approaches to these two different regions of Nicaragua is noteworthy. Although the differences in Marine methods used is only one variable in a complex situation, it seems that Edson's patience contributed importantly to his ultimate success along the Rio Coco and that the harsher measures used in Nueva Segovia probably aggravated an already bad situation in the Sandinistas' home area.15
The patience of the Eastern Area Marines would pay off handsomely in strategic terms. After foiling an ambush by Sandinista guerrillas on 7 August, Edson and his men captured Sandino's headquarters at Poteca 10 days later and sent the Nicaraguan guerrilla forces scattering into the interior of the country. This action not only threw the Sandinistas off balance, it also prevented them from massing to disrupt the U.S. supervised election in the fall of 1928.
Edson's Rio Coco patrol would represent, in the words of Maj Utley, the "elastic limit" of the Marines' penetration of Nicaragua from its eastern shore.16 Along the river, behind Edson's base, Marines began to set up strong points that secured the area from further Sandinista attacks. Both the Miskito and the region's bamboo whites benefited from the added security. The Marine presence and careful treatment of the locals had won the Indians' trust. After an initial period of wariness, more Indians began to cooperate freely with the Marines and many returned to their villages from the woods where they had hidden.17
The stability achieved along the upper reaches of the Rio Coco did not endure, however. In March 1929, the Marine command in Managua ordered a pullback from the interior of the Rio Coco for later that year. Maj Utley protested these orders in the name of a people whose friendliness he had cultivated. As he put it, the Indians of the interior:
. . . have gained confidence in our ability and willingness to afford them protection. To abandon Bocay will leave the entire north eastern (sic) part of the province of Jinotega open to any small band of marauders who-when organized bands are broken up-may be expected to continue their depredations.18
In fact, the Indians had gained more than just confidence in the Marines. Some decided to serve alongside the Marines by joining the Guardia Nacional. Although it has proven impossible to pin down exact numbers, one Marine report from 1930 that describes Guardia recruiting stated that, "On the Atlantic Coast a considerable number of Mosquito Indians are enlisted."19 Evidence also exists that Marine trainers appreciated the special abilities of their Indian recruits. As one Marine instructor working at Bluefields in 1929 commented:
I can conceive of no more valuable soldier than a property trained and disciplined Mosquito boy with his knowledge of woodcraft and tracking and at the same time an ability to read a simple map and perhaps make a simple sketch.20
While young Indians joined the Guardia Nacional, their community leaders looked at the Americans in new ways as well. In particular, they saw them as potential deliverers from the abuses and depredations of the "Spaniard" regimes in Managua, a development that added another wrinkle of complexity to the Marine-Miskito connection. Indians involved in land disputes with the Nicaraguan Government protested to Maj Utley in 1929, and to a Marine Col Wynn in the Guardia Nacional in 1931.21 The concluding words to the petition sent to Col Wynn show how at least some Miskito had come to view the Marines and, by extension, the United States. It read:
We Miskito Indians are clamoring for the Americans to sever us from our bonds, from this Nicaraguan yoke, [to] give us as before our reservation, and hold the sole rights of protectorate, given by us.22
Washington, however, viewed the problem from a different perspective. The administration hoped to wrap up an unpopular intervention as soon as possible and so the planned withdrawal of the Marines took place. Soon after, the Sandinistas regained control of Bocay and used this as a staging area to rebuild their position along the upper reaches of the Rio Coco. In February 1931, Indian spies told Guardin Nacional Intelligence that the Sandinistas were once again gathering forces at their old headquarters. Driven from Jinotega and Matagalpa in the west by aggressive Marine patrols, they were preparing a strike downriver with the aid of agents located as far down as Puerto Cabezas. A critical part of the insurgents' preparations had involved successful political work among the Bocay Indians. As the report said:
A deliberate effort has been made to gain favor with the Bocay Indians with a view to having their support, and has met with considerable success. The Indians in this reason professing (sic) themselves ready to take part in any attack on Guardia or expedition to Puerto Cabezas or Cabo Gracias [a Dios]. What means, exactly, has been used to gain the confidence of the Bocay Indians is not known, but their feelings and sympathies have been clearly brought over to the side of the bandits.23
The United States' precipitous pullback combined with the effects of the global economic depression set the stage for a devastating guerrilla retaliation. In April 1931, the Sandinistas launched an offensive against the Atlantic Coast. Striking down the Rio Coco, they captured Cabo Gracias a Dios and assaulted Puerto Cabezas, the headquarters of the Standard Fruit Company and the home of hundreds of its American employees. The Sandinista raids caused panic within the city and disrupted Indian communities all along the nver.24
Despite these later reversals, Edson's and Utley's careful work would not be completely undone. Miskito Indians, particularly those located on the lower Rio Coco and those along the Caribbean coast, served in the Guardia Nacional alongside Marine officers and helped thwart these same attacks.25 At least one reason for the Miskitos' continued loyalty to the Marine-led Guardia was a new found fear of the Sandinistas. Although Sandino's lieutenants would still enjoy the help of some Indians from deep inside the Rio Coco region,26 they abandoned the guerrilla general's earlier careful treatment of the inhabitants and resorted to terrorism in dealing with the Indians and bamboo whites. They beheaded a Moravian missionary for allegedly operating as a Guardia spy and burned his village because its inhabitants had helped Edson. In addition. Sandinista guerrillas roved the Rio Coco with hit lists of bamboo whites condemned to death for having aided the Marines. Finally, the insurgents captured and killed a number of employees of Standard Fruit, dismembering their bodies with machetes.
Despite their violence, these measures would do the guerrillas little good. Far from their logistical base, they became vulnerable to Marine counterattacks by aircraft and by ground patrols. After one of Sandino's top lieutenants, Pedro Blandon, was killed in the attack on Puerto Cabezas, the insurgents had to retreat back up the river. In the end, the depredations they carried out only turned the inhabitants against the insurgents and earned the earlier Sandinistas a reputation as "bandits" among the Indians, a perception that persists to this day and helps explain Miskito resistance to the Sandinista Government of the 1980s.27
Soldiers are inclined to view history in a very technical fashion. Frequently, they want to know what tactic or gambit can be borrowed from the past and used in the future. This view, however, better fits large, conventional battles than it does small wars, interventions, and counterinsurgency campaigns, which rarely turn on a single dazzling maneuver. Instead, such endeavors prove the truth of the old cliche about presidential campaigns in the United States that, "All politics is local." Small wars most often turn on local factors, and they are consummately political contests.
On this score both Edson and Sandino have to be given high marks. Each possessed an ability to "read" the local situation and put that knowledge to effective use. If, in the end, Sandino "lost" the Atlantic Coast, this would appear to have happened not through any blunder of his own, but rather because he failed to control his lieutenants-a problem not uncommon to armies fighting guerrilla wars, as the examples of Marine tactics in Nueva Segovia cited above indicate. As the conflict with the Americans dragged on and as their frustration mounted, Sandino's lieutenants seemed to view the complex bamboo white social structure of the Atlantic Coast through the lens of their own militant Hispanic nationalism. Thus, missionaries and bamboo whites friendly to the Marines, many of them American, appeared as foreigners or vendepatrias, deserving only death. These actions only alienated the Miskito who looked upon these foreigners as friends, employers, and even kinsmen.
But beyond Edson's (or Sandino's) effectiveness as a "soldier-diplomat," the Rio Coco case study also shows, in an overall sense, how interventions are shaped by the complex, many-sided politics of underdeveloped countries. Since Vietnam, it has become fashionable in some circles to interpret interventions as primarily conflicts between the resented forces of foreign powers and outraged nationalists, between "imperialists" and local patriots. From the perspective of post-World War I decolonization, such a view seemed natural. Yet in the case discussed here the conflict was not a two-sided military one, but a three-sided relationship between Indians, Marines, and insurgents-an association that was shaped as much by the politics of adhesion as by some reflex on the part of the locals to reject the outsider.
As Edson and Utley understood, special factors make the Miskito "potential allies if properly approached and handled." Yet, this added new complications to the Marines' task, for to have remained effecrive along the Rio Coco the Americans would have had to stay in the area. Overall, the Indians preferred the Marines to the largely Spanish-speaking Guardia Nacional. Still, to have created a purely Miskito army would have been locally logical but also would have undercut the U.S. "nation-building" agenda in Nicaragua, its plan to bolster the elected regime of friendly "Spaniards" in Managua. Yet to fail to do either of these things left the Indians open to the angry Sandinista backlash of 1931. Thus, the Indians were not just "potential allies" but also potential victims, as Utley recognized, when Washington's shifts undercut the actions of creative Marines in the field.
In this way, the Rio Coco case study speaks to what happens when U.S. forces encounter a frustrated national group of the type that appears to be emerging in a variety of areas today. The Miskito example discussed here brings to mind the Montagnards in Vietnam and, more recently, the Kurds of northern Iraq. Alliances with communities like these quickly become very tricky and are charged with ethical implications because such peoples frequently become dependent on the forces of an occupation for protection and support or, more importantly, because they may want to use the intervention as a springboard for further political action. When these considerations do not parallel Washington's agenda, it is often up to the military to resolve the differences in the field, something that can be a difficult and messy task.
In conclusion, the Rio Coco patrol serves as more than just an apt illustration of how some members of an earlier generation of Marines modified their tactics to fit the politics of the areas in which they served. Ultimately, it also shows why counterinsurgency remains the most difficult of military tasks even when well executed under favorable circumstances. In the end, this may be the most important lesson that today's Marines can learn from the story of Edson's mission and the Marine-Sandinista struggle to control the Rio Coco from 1928-1931.
1. For an insightful discussion of Edson's use of light infantry tactics, see Maj Jon T. Hoffman, "Edson's 'First Raiders,"' Vol. 5, No. 3, Fall 1991, pp. 20-25.
2. Edson, "Coco Patrol," Marine Corps Gazette, (August 1936).
3. Edson, "Coco Patrol," Marine Corps Gazette, (August 1936), p. 41.
4. Edson, "Coco Patrol," Marine Corps Gazette, (August 1936). p. 40.
5. Edson, "Coco Patrol," Marine Corps Gazette, (August 1936), p. 41.
6. Edson, "Coco Patrol," Marine Corps Gazette, (August 1936), p. 40.
7. Letter to Ethel R. Edson, Bocay, Nicaragua, 4 June 1928. File: "Letters Nicaragua. MAE to ERE. 5 April 1928 to 8 July 1928." Container 2. Edson Papers. Library of Congress (LC).
8. Letter to M. Austin Edson, Musawas, Nicaragua, 22 May 1928. File: "Letters Nicaragua. MAE to ERE. 5 April 1928 to 8 July 1928." #16 Container 2. Edson Papers. LC
9. A telegram from "Commanding Officer, Puerto Cabezas," (Utley) to "Brigade Commander," (Managua), 4 June 1928 reports that as Marine patrols penetrated the Bocay-Poteca region deep in Nicaragua's interior, "All reports indicate natives and Indians show fear of Marines." NA, RG 127, Entry 221, File 923 (Information from Eastern Area 1928).
10. Headquarters. Eastern Area, Nicaragua, Marine Barracks, Puerto Cabezas, Nic., 17 June 1928. Special Intelligence Report-Wanks River-Waspuc River-Bocay Area. Signed, "M.A. Edson." The report notes that most of the people in the area have aided Sandino at one time or another but that, "If properly handled, a great deal of assistance may be expect (sic) as boatmen, guides and laborers." The key, Edson asserts, is, "to maintain a friendly attitude towards them." Folder 20, Entry 204, RG 127, National Archives.
11. United States Marine Corps, Headquarters, Eastern Area, Puerto Cabezas Nicaragua, 16 August 1928. Letter from Maj Harold H. Utley to the Commanding General. NA, RG 127, Entry 221, File 922 (East Coast).
12. Headquarters, Second Brigade, Marine Corps, Managua, Nicaragua, 17 August 1928, "Dispatch-Outgoing-Code Underlined Words."
13. Headquarters, Northern Area, Westen: Nicaragua, U.S. Marines, Ocotal, Nicaragua, 23 Mayu I928, Memorandum for all Officers and Men of the Marine Corps and Guardia Nacional in the Northern Area from Col R.H. Dunlap. USMC. Commanding Officer, RG 127, Entry 220, File 811.0(2). 11th Regiment Correspondence. Therein, Col Dunlap reminds Marines that rural inhabitants are the victims of bandit depredations and so, "they hide out. act suspicious and . . . become hunted creatures by both bandits and Marines." The Memorandum asks that Marines make sure that the houses they destroy belong to bandits. Two years later the commander of the Guardia Nacional, Col Julian C. Smith, would forbid all houseburning and prohibit the Guardia from exercising arbitrary authority under martial law, although such was technically permitted in northern areas of the country at the time. See: Headquarters Central Area, Guardia Nacional de Nicaragua, Jinotega, Nicaragua, 26 May 1931, Area Order from Col Julian C. Smith, Guardia Nacional de Nicaragua, Commanding Central Area, RG 127, Entry 202, File 32.0.
14. Telegram from the CO, GN Northern Area to Jefe Director GN Managua; All GN Northern Area, 9 June 1930. See also: Telegram, Dept Comdr Matagalpa to D.C. McDougal. Both located in RG 127. Entry 220. File 815: Commander of the Special Service Squadron.
15. For examples of the harder-edged approach that the Marines took toward pro-Sandinista peasants in Nueva Segovia, see: Guardia Nacional. San Juan, 22 February 1931. Patrol Report [by 1stLt J.H. Satterfield, G.N.] which describes how a "bandit" was wounded and left where he fell, "Jaw broken, right arm broken also shot thru (sic) back" after attempts at interrogation. House burning is described in: Headquarters, District of Palacaguina, Guardia Nacional, 9 March 1931, Patrol Report from J. Ogden Brauer, District Commander, which describes burning of houses. For an example of prisoner "shot while attempting to escape." see: Guardia Nacional de Nicaragua, San Juan de Telpaneca, Nic., 13 March 1932. Patrol Report from 2dLt Donald G. Truesdale, Guardia Nacional. All of the above references are RG 127, Entry 202. The first two are from File: 52.0 and the last from File: 54.0. Further such information can be found in the same Entry (202) in File: 57.0 and among loose materials near File: 55 in the front of Box 13.
16. Headquarters, Eastern Area, Nicaragua, Marine Barracks, Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, 1 June 1928, Letter from Maj Utley to the Commanding General. Utley's estimate of the situation attached. P. 1 of Estimate.
17. On Indians returning to their homes, see: Headquarters, Eastern Area, Nicaragua, Marine Barracks, Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, Intelligence Reports for 1 April 1928 and 3 June 1928, RG 127, Entry 204, Folder: 20.
18. Letter from the Commander Eastern Area to the Commanding General, Second Brigade, 26 March 1929, PC 127, Box IV, Utley Papers. Marine Corps Historical Center, Building 58, Washington Navy Yard. Washington. DC.
19. "Estimate of the Situation in Nicaragua." Sec. Nav. Gen. Corresp. 1925, "EF-49" Box 2009, Folder: EF 49/P9-2-(291112 to 30033).
20. Letter from H.D. Linscott, Department Commander, to The Area Commander, Area of the East, Guardia Nacional, Bluefields, Department of Northern bluefields, Guardia Nacional. Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, 6 September 1929, RG 127. Entry 202, File 92.0.
21. Letter from Maj Harold H. Utley, Headquarters, Eastern Area, Nicaragua, Marine Barracks, Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, 18 February 1928, to H. Sanford London, Esquire. His British Majesty's Charge D'Affaires, Managua, Nicaragua, Folder: Utley's Personal 3 Jan '28 to Jul '31, Box, 3, Utley Papers, Marine Corps Historical Center, Building 58, Washington Navy Yard.
22. Letter from the Miskito Indians of Bilwi to the Honorable Colonel Wyinn, Commander, Guardia Nacional, Eastern Area, Bluefields, Nicaragua, 15 May 1931, File E. Bilwi, Entry 206. RG 127, National Archives.
23. Letter from H.N. Sent to The Department Commander, Department of Northern Bluefields, Guardia Nacional De Nicaragua, 20 February 1931, RG 127, Entry 43-A, File: 2d Brig B-3 Repts & Mess 1Jan-24Mar31.
24. Months later, Marine Inspectors would report how previously-secured areas remained in chaos as a result of the Sandinistas' resurgence. In describing the situation around Waspuc, one Marine author (unidentified) commented on how, as a result of Sandinista raids, "Several hundred Indians who previously lived in that region [the area around Waspuc, a town far behind the areas originally secured by Edson] have come into the town below Kisalaya, over crowding them (sic) and making living conditions almost impossible." Inspection Report (apparently a rough draft), Guardia Nacional de Nicaragua. 9th Company, Puerto Cabezas, 31 August 1932, located on back of last page of said report.
25. See: "Estimate of the Situation in Nicaragua," Sec. Nav. Gen. Corrsp. 1925. "EF-49" Box 2009, Folder: EF 49/P9-2-(291112 to 30033); Letter from H.D. Linscott, Department Commander, to The Area Commander, Area of the East. Guardia Nacional, Bluefields, Department of Northern Bluefields, Guardia Nacional, Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, 6 September 1929, RG 127. Entry 202, File 92.0.
26. See Patrol Report from 2dLt E.J. Suprenant, G.N. to The Area Commander, Eastern Area, Bluefields, Nic., District of Kisalaya, Department of Northern Bluefields. Kisalaya. Nicaragua, 2 February 1932. NA, RG 127, Entry 202, File 58.0.
27. See Patrol Report by E.J. Suprenant, District Commander, to The Area Commander, Eastern Area, Bluefields, District of Kisalaya. Department of Northern Bluefields, Kisalaya, Nicaragua, 29 February 1932, RG 127. Entry 202, File: 54.0 Therein, Suprenant describes the enthusiastic participation of aggrieved Miskitos in a Marineled, Guardia Nacional patrol directed against Sandinistas who bad recently raided several villages in the Kisalaya area. Suprenant conclusion relates his own frustration at not having enough men to "clean up" the area above Kisalaya and his inability to explain this deficiency to "the land owners [Miskito Indians, for land along the Rio Coco is plentiful] that (sic) have property above Kisalaya. . . ." On a similar sacking of Sacklin, a town with pro-Sandinista connections, lor example, see: patrol Report from: Department Commander O.A. Inman, to: Area Commander. Area of the East, Guardia Nacional, Bluefields. Nicaragua. Department of Northern Bluefields. Guardia Nacional d Nicaragua, Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, 29 April 1931. RD 127, Entry 202, File: 57.0. In other areas, particularly along the Prinzapolka River, at least some Miskito sought more of a Marine presence to maintain order and protect them from elements they saw as lawless. For an example, see Let- ter from Stephen Boudien (?). Head of Community Mos- quitos (sic) Tungla to Commander in Chief of the U.S. M.C., Tungla (Nicaragua), 7 January 1929; RG 127, Entry 204. Folder 26.2. Numerous other reports document consistent Miskito cooperation with the Marines in terms of providing a rich flow of information about Sandinista or "bandit" movements. This contrasts with the often unreliable information Marines received in Nueva Segovia. Sandino's major area of support.