Sunday, November 3, 2013

Archivist revels in state's treasures and mysteries

Jeff Kintop displays a U.S. flag, hand painted on Oct. 31, 1864 to commemorate Nevada's statehood, stored in 'The Vault' at the Nevada State Library and Archives in Carson City. The flag, which flew over Fort Ruby, is believed to be the first 36-star flag. (Reno Gazette-Journal)

Written by Guy Clifton
Reno Gazette-Journal

A funny thing happened to Jeff Kintop on his career path back to his native Minnesota.

He fell in love with Nevada, and the rest, quite literally, is history.

Kintop, the Nevada state archivist, moved to Reno in 1979 to work on a grant-funded history education project at the University of Nevada, Reno.

“After four years of working at UNR, the grant ended and I had to go look for other work,” said Kintop, 62, who took over the top job at the Nevada State Library and Archives in 2009 after longtime archivist Guy Rocha retired. “I had come from Minnesota (he earned a master’s in history from Mankato State), and I always thought I would end up back at Minnesota, where they have a very large historical society. We already had two kids then, and my wife said, ‘You can find another job,’ and she meant here (in Nevada).”

There was one problem in 1983. The country was in a recession and full-time jobs were hard to come by.

That’s when Kintop received a call from Rocha.

“Guy called and said, ‘I have this part-time opening that doesn’t pay hardly anything, but it’s a job,’” Kintop said. “I took it.”

He worked part time at the Nevada State Archives in Carson City and also took a part-time job as a scholar in residence for Sierra County, Calif., working with the schools in Downieville, Portola and other towns in the county.

Two years later, in 1985, the recession was coming to an end and the job at the state archives was expanded to full time. Kintop became the curator of archives and manuscripts.

“It’s been pretty exciting pretty much ever since,” Kintop said.

One of Kintop’s roles as the archives manager was to be the caretaker of some of the state’s most-prized documents — one-of-a-kind items that tell the state’s history and which are not replaceable. Most of them are kept in a special area known as “the vault.”

The vault is temperature-controlled, humidity-controlled and is protected by halon gas in case of a fire.

The oldest item in the vault is the “First Records of Carson Valley, Utah Territory.

“When John Reese and the first settlers decided they were going to stay the winter, they formed their own government and petitioned Congress to form a territorial government,” Kintop said, explaining the fledgling government kept its records in the small book dated Nov. 12, 1851.

This record book was stolen in 1989 when the State Archives moved to its present location on Stewart Street in Carson City. A worker helping with the move stole the book and sold it to a collector for $800.

It was eventually recovered and returned to the state.

The vault also includes the first U.S. 36-star flag (commemorating Nevada’s admission to the Union as the 36th state). On Oct. 31, 1864, a group of enterprising soldiers at Fort Ruby in Elko County decided to commemorate the occasion.

The soldiers hand-painted their own flag to fly above the fort in the shadow of the Ruby Mountains of eastern Nevada. The fort’s surgeon, upon leaving Fort Ruby years later, took the flag with him to Ohio, where it remained in his family for decades.

When Nevada celebrated its centennial in 1964, the surgeon’s grandson presented it to Gov. Grant Sawyer and it has been in the state’s possession ever since.

Seeing and touching the state’s history — and uncovering it to share with others — has been Kintop’s passion for more than 30 years.

He and Rocha co-authored a book about Wyatt Earp and his family’s Nevada connections titled “The Earps’ Last Frontier.”

Kintop said knowing the names of the people who built Nevada is one thing, but knowing about the people themselves, beyond the names, has been fascinating. In researching a water rights lawsuit from the 1880s, he learned the personal stories and put names to faces of old photographs from some of Nevada’s first citizens.

The best part, Kintop said, is that there are more treasures to be found and more history to be written and shared with Nevadans about their home state.

“There are still mysteries out there,” he said with a smile.

With Nevada celebrating its sesquicentennial over the next 12 months, his office is abuzz with activity — everything from people asking permission to use the copyrighted state song, “Home Means Nevada,” to people needing research on one historical tidbit or another.

Kintop lives in Reno with his wife, Dale. They have two daughters, Krista Phillips and Caitlin Fletcher, two grandchildren and two more on the way.

His thoughts of returning to Minnesota are, literally, history.

“I haven’t thought about it for years,” he said. “Nevada is home. It’s been home for 34 years now. I’ve spent more time here than anywhere else in my life. I love it here.”