“Sawdust Empire” is a fictional account of the labor strife that fueled the 1916 Everett Massacre.

“Sawdust Empire” is a fictional account of the labor strife that fueled the 1916 Everett Massacre.

‘Sawdust Empire’ author brings own history to Everett’s story

Everett’s book.

That is how author J.D. Howard describes “Sawdust Empire.” His fictional account of the area’s rough-and-tumble early days centers on 1916, and the labor tensions that snowballed into the waterfront shootout known as the Everett Massacre.

“From the beginning I have felt that this would not be my book, but Everett’s book,” he writes in his new novel’s acknowledgements.

J.D. Howard is a pen name. It’s the nom de plume for Jim Cuthill, 61, a 1973 graduate of Everett High School with his own history in the community. A month after he was born in Seattle, the family moved here when his father became controller at Sumner Iron Works in Everett’s historic Lowell neighborhood. After high school, Cuthill worked for a time in the Sumner foundry.

Sumner Iron Works, founded in Everett in 1892, ties in with “Sawdust Empire.”

In the weeks leading up to the shootings, which happened Nov. 5, 1916, shingle weavers were on strike in Everett. That brought members of the Industrial Workers of the World — outsiders called Wobblies — to town to speak up for local strikers.

In the novel, waterfront mill workers talk about the “Sumners,” shingle-cutting machines manufactured by Sumner Iron Works. The Granite Falls Historical Museum, where Cuthill was photographed Friday, has a Sumner Gold Medal-model shingle machine made in 1916, the year of the massacre.

“Sawdust Empire” takes place largely in Everett, but also in the area’s lumber camps and in Seattle where the Wobblies gathered before making fateful trips to Everett.

A week before the waterfront shootout, more than 40 Wobblies were beaten by forces of Everett’s ruling establishment at Beverly Park. The following Sunday, Nov. 5, two vessels brought about 300 Wobblies to Everett from Seattle. Gunfire rang out as the steamer Verona approached the city dock at the end of Hewitt Avenue. It has never been clear which side fired first. In the end, two local deputies and at least five Wobblies — and perhaps many more — were dead.

“Sawdust Empire” is fiction, with many characters conjured up by the author. “I created my own mill owner,” said Cuthill. That ruthless character is Luther MacCullock, an amalgam perhaps of Everett lumber barons David Clough and Roland Hartley. “I knew I was digging up old Everett dirt,” said Cuthill, who recalled going to high school with descendants of Everett’s early-day mill owners.

For other characters, the author used historically accurate names — Snohomish County Sheriff Donald McRae, Deputy Jefferson Beard and Wobblies speaker James Thompson.

Cuthill said he was greatly helped by Everett Public Library historian David Dilgard and hours spent in the library’s Northwest History Room, and by local historian Larry O’Donnell. He credits his son, Skyler Cuthill, and Allison Hitz with editing help. And his friend, Miles Auckland, who has a long history in the logging business, lent expertise in that area and artwork for chapter headings.

Cuthill was a sophomore at Everett High when Norman Clark’s definitive history of early Everett, “Mill Town,” was published in 1972. Other books have focused on the Everett Massacre, including Edwin’s Parker’s 1963 novel “Timber.” “I set out to do something completely different,” Cuthill said.

The Everett Massacre will mark its 100th anniversary this year. Local historians plan to place a marker near the waterfront site commemorating what happened 100 years ago. And Dilgard said many other events are being organized for November.

With as long as he has studied the Everett Massacre, Dilgard said, “It’s had lots of time to become tedious or boring.” That hasn’t happened. “I never stop being fascinated why otherwise reasonable men end up killing each other,” he said.

“Sawdust Empire” isn’t a volume for historical purists. It is an entertaining and enlightening look at old Everett’s working-versus-ruling class struggles.

“I didn’t want to ruffle anybody’s feathers,” the author said. “I just wanted to let a reader get inside of what could have happened.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

‘Sawdust Empire’ event at Anchor

J.D. Howard, author of the historical novel “Sawdust Empire,” is hosting a book event at 7 p.m. April 30 at the Anchor Pub, 1001 Hewitt Ave., Everett. The book is a fictional account of the labor strife that fueled the 1916 Everett Massacre. The event will feature live music and a book signing.

“Sawdust Empire” is available at the Schack Art Center, 2921 Hoyt Ave., Everett; at J. Matheson Gifts, Kitchen &Gourmet, 2615 Colby Ave., Everett; and online at www.amazon.com.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Snohomish residents Barbara Bailey, right, and Beth Jarvis sit on a gate atop a levee on Bailey’s property on Monday, May 13, 2024, at Bailey Farm in Snohomish, Washington. Bailey is concerned the expansion of nearby Harvey Field Airport will lead to levee failures during future flood events due to a reduction of space for floodwater to safely go. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Harvey Field seeks to reroute runway in floodplain, faces new pushback

Snohomish farmers and neighbors worry the project will be disruptive and worsen flooding. Ownership advised people to “read the science.”

Grayson Huff, left, a 4th grader at Pinewood Elementary, peeks around his sign during the Marysville School District budget presentation on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
State OKs Marysville plan with schools, jobs on chopping block

The revised plan would mean the loss of dozens of jobs and two schools — still to be identified — in a school district staring down a budget crunch.

IAM District 751 machinists join the picket line to support Boeing firefighters during their lockout from the company on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Amid lockout, Boeing, union firefighters return to bargaining table

The firefighters and the planemaker held limited negotiations this week: They plan to meet again Monday, but a lockout continues.

The Trestle’s junction with I-5 is under evaluation (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Here’s your chance to give feedback on the US 2 trestle and its future

Often feel overwhelmed, vulnerable and on shaky ground? So is the trestle. A new $17 million study seeks solutions for the route east of Everett.

Logo for news use featuring Whidbey Island in Island County, Washington. 220118
Freeland massage therapist charged with sex crimes

The judge set bail at $7,500 for the health care provider, who was accused of sexually assaulting two clients last year.

Lynnwood
Suspected DUI crash injures trooper on I-5 north in Lynnwood

WSP spokesperson said two suspected impaired drivers have crashed into a state trooper in the past 24 hours.

John Pederson lifts a flag in the air while himself and other maintenance crew set up flags for Memorial Day at Floral Hills Cemetery on Friday, May 24, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Volunteers place thousands of flags by veterans’ graves in Lynnwood

Ahead of Memorial Day, local veterans ensure fellow military service members are never forgotten.

State Trooper Isaiah Oliver speaks to a BNSF worker at mile marker 31.7 as road closures and evacuations mount in response to the Bolt Creek Fire on Saturday, Sep. 10, 2022, on U.S. 2 near Index, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
As wildfires creep west of Cascades, county plans for next Bolt Creek

Wildfires are an increasing concern in Snohomish County. A new project aims to develop a better plan.

Everett High seniors, from left, Avery Thompson, Lanie Thompson, Melissa Rosales-Alfaro and Saron Mulugeta sit together in front of their school on Monday, May 20, 2024, in Everett, Washington. The group have called to question their district’s policy that does not permit graduates to decorate their mortarboards or graduation clothing. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
After student campaign, Everett schools allows custom graduation caps

“It’s a really good first step,” the Everett High School ASB president said. But the students still want relaxed rules for future classes.

People hang up hearts with messages about saving the Clark Park gazebo during a “heart bomb” event hosted by Historic Everett on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Future of historic Clark Park gazebo now in hands of City Council

On June 5, the Everett council is set to decide whether to fund removal of the gazebo. It could be stored elsewhere.

People fill the board room for public comment during a Marysville School Board meeting on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Struggling Marysville schools dropped from insurance pool

In an unprecedented move, the board of the Washington Schools Risk Management Pool voted to drop the district by August.

A cyclist heads along Federal Avenue past a bike route sign near 46th Street SE on Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Bike sign project marks lanes, distances for Everett cyclists

Around the city, crews are putting up over 200 signs, geared toward helping bicyclists find their way around.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.