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; firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘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.