Sacking of the
Bonanza & La Luz mines, April-May
account of the sacking of the Bonanza & La
Luz mines in mid-April 1928 by forces
under EDSN General Manuel María Girón Ruano
offers a fascinating glimpse into Sandinista
attitudes toward foreign property
US property. Patterns of property destruction
and violence show a highly disciplined group
that committed no violence against persons but
saw foreign-owned property as a legitimate
target. Indeed, the group went out of its way
not to hurt anyone (making sure no one was in
the Ball Mill before blowing it to smithereens,
for instance), while also either taking or
destroying all fixed and moveable property. In
the words of General Girón (as reported by the
eyewitness), "they wanted to destroy everything
belonging to the Americans."
As in the sacking
of El Jícaro a few months earlier,
events at Bonanza Mine were marked by a
carnivalesque atmosphere, a ritualized inversion
of property relations and radical
egalitarianism, with the rebels sharing equally
in divvying up the spoils. Mainly they're
interested in taking all the guns, ammunition,
food, and clothing they can carry, and
destroying everything else. In these patterns of
property destruction and appropriation the rebel
bands articulated a powerful and unambiguous
statement: that they really hated the United
States of America. Also noteworthy
is the second raid led by Marcos Agüero, in the
spring of 1928 a key Sandinista jefe in the Río
Bocay region, according to captured
correspondence. (Photos of
destruction at La Luz Mine, US National
Archives; for additional photos see Photo Page
1, La Luz Mine)
The observations of the German
construction engineer S. Graae on the "insane"
labor conditions in the mines also merit close
attention. Graae not only identifies U.S.
Ambassador Fletcher as having a material stake
in the mines (through his brother-in-law, a
former supervisor at La Luz Mine and in charge
of the commissaries at Puerto Cabezas), but also
describes the extreme exploitation of mine
laborers. As Graae put it, because of the
company's long history of treating the workers
like "slaves . . . There has been a great reason
This was a major episode that helped to
define the character of the emergent Sandinista
movement. Over the next half-decade the
rebels threatened & attacked & sacked the
Neptune & other mines, as the Marines-Guardia
first garrisoned and then withdrew from the
mines, citing lack of resources and strategic
purpose, leaving mine owners to their own
devices. The mines seem to crystalize much
of the essential character of this explosive
rebellion. Most of the documents showing
these patterns are housed in the East Coast
Enclosure No. 1
May 12, 1928.
ARTURO PINEDA, a native of Nicaragua resident of
Bluefields, 27 years of age and unmarried, being
sworn according to law deposes and says that for
some time he has been in charge of the
commissary at the Neptune Mine the property of
Bonanza Mines Company, situated in the mining
district of Pis Pis, Department of Bluefields,
Republic of Nicaragua. That at 2 o'clock Sunday
morning April 15, 1928, a special messenger from
La Luz Mine brought the news that Sandino's army
had looted said mine and was on its way to
Neptune, thereupon the Inspector of Police, the
Superintendent of the mine with other employees
and workmen of the mine (with the exception of
myself, Fred Delft (German) and five colored
men) not waiting for the arrival of the soldiers
to reach the mine at about 8 a.m. ran to the
bush for safety.
That a detachment of Sandino's army numbering
about 200 men on horseback under command of
General Manuel M. Giron R., reached Neptune mine
at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 15, 1928.
Colonel Rodriguez who had command of the advance
guard asked me in Spanish where the Americans
were. I told him there was nobody here but me
and I was in charge of the place. Then two
soldiers searched my person after which the
Colonel asked me if the company had any arms and
ammunition. I told him that Mr. A. H. Head must
have taken same.
Then he and some soldiers went to the
comandancia and searched / p. 2 / searched the
place finding a few rifles, the property of the
Nicaraguan Government that were there for the
use of the Police Inspector. Then they asked me
where was the Inspector of Police and the
employees of the mine. I answered that they left
early in the morning on their way to Bluefields.
At this time General Giron with his staff
arrived and immediately asked me for and ordered
me to open the Commissary and show him around
which I did.
He went up to my room first and when I opened my
trunk for examination he found ten shells for a
35 caliber rifle, the property of the company
which he took.
Then we went to Mr. Hansen's (Norwegian) room
who was sick and in bed and while the General
was questioning him the soldiers took his watch,
fifty dollars in cash, a rain coat and a pair of
lace boots. General Giron made no effort to
restrain them from this robbery.
A visit was next made to Mr. Napoleon's room and
after a fruitless search for ammunition and arms
a rain coat was all they took therefrom.
Next was Mr. Warnick's room the President of the
company who at that time was in Philadelphia,
Penna. They asked for the keys to his trunk and
two valises and as I did not have them they lock
of the trunk was broken where a 45 calibre Colts
automatic pistol was found which the[y]
Our next visit was to the office where a general
search was made finding another 45 calibre Colts
automatic pistol which was confiscated.
I was then asked for the combination of the safe
which I did not have. The General then sent for
Mr. Delft and another / p. 3 / another mechanic
who was at the order of the General broke the
hinges and the combination and got some
ammunition for the two pistols.
Then on to the Commissary and while the soldiers
were helping themselves to anything they wanted
the General called for Mr. Delft and asked him
how much gold was in the boxes, his reply was
that he did not know. The General sent for two
black men John McPherson and Felipe Benard and
asked them to melt the gold and he would pay
them. He wanted the gold to be ready on Monday
afternoon before dark, which was done and the
amount of bullion taken was 344 1/2 ounces he
giving me a receipt therefor.
The soldiers under command of Colonel Sanchez
and General Giron in the meantime etc. drank and
gave out things in the Commissary to a lot of
stragglers. All with the exception of 20
soldiers left at midnight for Lone Star where
they had a camp.
On their way from La Luz Mine the army stopped
at Lone Star, subsequently coming to Neptune
Before the General left he gave me orders to
leave the doors of the Commissary open and to
let everybody have what they wanted; saying
because it was American property they wanted to
destroy everything belonging to the Americans,
this was said in the presence of the soldiers.
The 20 remaining soldiers had instructions to
see that the people got everything they wanted
from the Commissary by order of General Giron
and they made a clean sweep of the contents.
Monday the 16th orders came from General Giron
to send some provisions to Lone Star Mine and to
get enough flour to bake bread for the soldiers
and stragglers which was done by me. / p. p. 4 /
At eight o'clock Tuesday morning the 17th
General Giron came from Lone Star Mine
(abandoned) which is about two miles from
Neptune and asked me how much powder (dynamite)
we had on hand and he was told about sixty cases
which he took making three piles thereof and
burned it up.
After eating breakfast they put a case of
dynamite into the Ball Mill and blew it up using
25 feet of fuse to enable every one to get out
of danger so as to avoid killing or injuring any
persons when the dynamite exploded after this
performance they departed for Lone Star Mine.
In the meantime the General sent the three
soldiers to Panama Mine accompanied by Andres
Leiva and Ascencion Figueros where the Company's
mules were in hiding and helped themselves to
six taking a pistol from Wederburn then to the
Bodega (Warehouse) at Aguas Caliente taking all
the merchandise there then for Lone Star with
their plunder. At the same time taking Jose
Moncada along to care for the mules.
About six p.m. Sunday April 29th another
contingent of some 80 soldiers under command of
Marcos Aguero came to the mine and took from the
Commissary whatever was left and departed in the
direction of Waspook river.
And further deponent sayeth not.
(Signed) ARTHUR M. PINEDA.
Sworn and subscribed by ARTHUR M. PINEDA, before
me at the American Consulate, this the 12th day
of May, 1928. /s/ Samuel J. Fletcher, Consul of
the United States of America at Bluefields,
Nicaragua. Service No. 128.
Deposition of Arthur M.
Pineda, Bluefields, 12 May, 1928, Encl. 1 in S. J. Fletcher, Bluefields to US Legation,
Managua, May 17, 1928, USDS 817.00/5739, and
317.1157, Bonanza Mines Co.
Nicaragua, May 17, 1928
THE AMERICAN MINISTER
SUBJECT: ACTIVITIES OF SANDINO'S
FOLLOWERS, ATTACK ON LA LUZ AND BONANZA MINES IN
BLUEFIELDS CONSULAR DISTRICT:
I have the honor to report that on the morning
of May 2, 1928, this consulate received word of
the second invasion of the Pis Pis district by
the followers of Sandino. These raiders,
between sixty and eighty, unlike the first group
(this consulate's letter of April 28, 1928) were
poorly organized, and among their number were
several Sumu Indians armed with shotguns and
They arrived / p. 2 /
They arrived at the La Luz y Los Angeles Mine
[in margin: 317.115 L15] on April
24, under the command of Marcos Aguero, which
they destroyed on the same day by discharging 25
cases of dynamite taken from the company's
storehouse. The second group again
ransacked the company's commissary and private
homes and then departed for the Bonanza Mines.
The attached copy (Enclosure No. 1) of the sworn
statement of Arturo Pineda gives details of the
two attacks on the Neptune Mine of the Bonanza
group. There is also attached a copy
(Enclosure No. 2) of a receipt given by the
first group of Sandinistas. As of further
interest to you I am sending the original
memorandum (Enclosure No. 3) prepared by Mr.
Graae, a construction engineer at Puerto
Cabezas, and a letter (Enclosure No. 4) said to
have been written by the father of Augusto
Sandino to a relative in Puerto Cabezas.
Second hand information received in this
consulate indicate that at the time the marines
were ascending the river from Cabo Gracias, on
one occasion Sandino was but two miles ahead of
them at luncheon with a family of Moravian
missionaries. According to the wife of the
missionary (a German) Sandino spoke bitterly of
the action of some of his followers in
committing robberies and atrocities of which he
disavowed all knowledge especially with the
wanton destruction of the La Luz and Neptune
This consulate has been unable to learn anything
of the whereabouts or welfare of Marshall, the
last heard from him being of the date April 24,
A rumor / p. 3 /
A rumor reached this city today that 50 raiders
had been sighted near Rama on the Escondido
river. A patrol has been sent out to
verify the report and should the rumor prove
true the remainder of the garrison here will be
sent to engage them.
I have the honor to be, Sir,
Your obedient servant,
Samuel J. Fletcher,
Enclosure No. 2
Mr. Arthur Pineda was directed to place at the
orders of the forces of the Liberator whatever
may be necessary for its sustenance and as this
property belongs to Americans who are the cause
of this expedition we take for our use
merchandise which we are in need of and the
existing gold which amounted to 344 1/2 ounces.
For Country and Liberty,
(Signed) GENERAL MANUEL M. GIRON R.
Service No. 133.
Enclosure No. 3.
INFORMATION ABOUT THE SEIZURE OF AMERICAN OWNED
MINES OF THE PIS PIS DISTRICT, NICARAGUA.
After the first news poured out about the
capture by Sandino's forces of the Pis Pis Mine
group, it was evident that the news spread in
the American press were very tendentious.
A closer investigation has revealed facts which
have to be taken into consideration before
making a national affair of it.
The seizure and blowing up of the mines was not
alone a political action, but was a result of
insane labor conditions and corruption in the
The very fact that the Fletcher family of New
York, of which Ambassador Fletcher is a member,
and Ambassador Fletcher's brother-in-law, Mr.
Martin, now Superintendent of the Commissary at
Puerto Cabezas, and formerly Superintendent of
the La Luz Mine, is no reason to hide the truth
and to give the entire affair a political
aspect. The laborers at the mine are paid
$1.50 a day. From this salary is taken
$0.75 for food, $0.25 for medical services per
day. Remaining 50 cents to take care of
clothing and feeding the families.
Cash is never seen, the company paying its
laborers through credit in its commissaries
where the humblest necessities of life are
manifold overcharged. The laborer, working
10 hours a day has no chance of making a headway
but remains a slave, always dependent and in
obligation to his creditors, the commissaries.
The miners in this and many other ways deprived
of making even a modest living have had good
reason for revolt and found /
p. 2 / and found in Sandino's
movement a splendid opportunity to take revenge
over their former superiors.
There has been a great reason for revolt and it
would be advisable for the federal government to
look into these affairs, so little creditable
for American prestige in Central America.
(Signed) S. GRAAE.
May 14, 1928.
[ Excerpt from B-2 Report, Managua, 6 May 1928 ]
... (7) From CO, Bluefields: Capt. Rose
reports received information from one Mr. Johnson at
Prinzapolka from La Luz Mine that band of sixty bandits
dynamited and destroyed mill at that mine 24th Apr.
Band led by Jose Aroliga and Cicilio Gutierrez; left
headed for Bocay. Reliable native from Pis Pis
reports mill at that mine dynamited and destroyed 17th
Apr. by band of about 50. Left 18th headed for La
Luz Mine. Unreliable report that George Marshall
has been taken into interior to Sandino. ......
(9) CO, Bluefields reports information
received from Mr. Johnson who left there 25th that La
Luz Mine mill blown up with 25 cases dynamite and
Bonanza with 1 case. 60 Sandinistas, 30 of whom
were Indians and rest Nicaraguans, armed with muzzle
loading shotguns and Krag rifles, little ammunition
camped at El Dorado two hours out on trail from La Luz
to Pis Pis. They came down Coco and up Bocay in 3
big canoes which they left at Casas Viejas. From
there came overland to Pis Pis and joined Jiron.
Jiron left Pis Pis 18th and arrived Casas Viejas 22nd
enroute Jinotega. Intentions probably either to go
to Jinotega or to Sandino's camp in Jinotega.
Carried Marshall with him, not injured. Sandino's
orders to bring in all Americans. Native reports
Marcusa Aguero and 60 men still at El Dorado 25th.
Probably intentions are to return to Jinotega shortly
over same route he came over. ......
(18) From CO, Matagalpa: Capt. Hart
reports unconfirmed information received from native of
Cacao, on Pis Pis trail that he had talked to Sgt. Maj.
of last group to pass Cacao who stated Gen. Irias was
there, ammunition was very low and they hoped to get
more but it was doubtful. That he only knew they
were going to Pis Pis to join Jiron. That Sandino
had remained in the mountain of Segovia with his staff.
Same native states he met on Apr. 28th at Guaslala 18
miles from Cusuli 3 natives returning from Puerto
Cabezas who stated that on 24th Apr. they passed group
of about 70 armed men at La Qeiba on Pis Pis trail and
28th they passed second group of about 20, mostly on
foot, all armed, had 4 pack bulls, no machine guns seen.
Group under Irias left Cusuli 24th. ...
the destruction of La Luz Mine, April 1928
US National Archives, RG127/38/29-30
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