Virginia City’s Joe Curtis loves the life in Nevada
VIRGINIA CITY — Everyone in Virginia City knows Joe Curtis. He’s the local historian, volunteer fire chief, the guy who owns Mark Twain Book Store on C Street.
But the picture is far more complex and his easy, unassuming demeanor belies his non-stop lifestyle.
Curtis is an author, editor and antique car buff. He’s worked as a sheriff’s deputy and fireman and he readily admits to loving it all, especially being a Nevadan.
“There’s no reason to be anyplace else,” he said. “I’ve traveled all over the world and I’ve never been anyplace I’d rather live. There’s just something about it.”
Born and raised in Carson City, Curtis moved to Virginia City with his family in the 1950s, when he was 14. He continued his education in Carson City schools, then attended San Jose State University in California where he majored in criminal justice.
Before graduation, he took a job with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Las Vegas, but the Vietnam War was in full swing and his career was cut short in 1966 by the draft.
Curtis was promised special training if he enlisted in the Army for four years, an offer he accepted. He first served as an intelligence agent in Southeast Asia and then in the United States, where he infiltrated Bay Area groups that could be considered subversive, like the Black Panthers and Students for a Democratic Society.
“I was in the Army for four years, but I never wore a uniform,” he said. “I had three forms of identification, used for different circumstances. It was exciting and scary. A couple of times, I was identified (in the Bay Area) and had to lay low.”
His stint in the army ended in 1970 and he settled for a time in the Bay Area with his wife and college sweetheart, Ellie. The couple moved back to Nevada in 1972 and traveled extensively afterward, but never left Nevada again.
Curtis worked first with the Nevada Department of Investigation, then as a deputy with the Carson City Sheriff’s Department. He was an assistant sheriff when he retired in 1995, after a career that spanned more than 20 years.
And there are many fond memories of Carson City, like the time a burglar was aided and abetted by a Kings Canyon Nubian goat.
“The burglary suspect was in the house and my partner and I were outside in the bushes,” he said. “The goat knocked me down and kept butting me so I couldn’t get up. I finally got a piece of firewood and started hitting him on the head, but he liked it. He thought it was a game. The burglar had a gun and was looking out the window, but my partner couldn’t stop laughing.”
The story has a happy ending. The burglar was apprehended as he tried to sneak out of a bathroom window. The goat lived happily ever after.
Curtis’ parents owned the Mark Twain Museum of Memories from 1959 to 1993 and with that background, he said a love of history came naturally. He took over operation of the business, converting it to a book store after his mother’s death in 1993. Since then, it’s been featured in Time Magazine, Smithsonian, Nevada Magazine and on the A&E channel.
He specializes in Western historical books and publications, a topic that has seen a surge in popularity during the past several years. He said original Comstock publications are increasingly rare.
Curtis is the author of a number of books on local historical topics including American Flat and Piper’s Opera House. He’s writing a book about Sutro Tunnel and another about the history of Virginia City as it relates to small businesses during the Comstock’s heyday.
“I work from five to seven days a week,” he said with a smile. “I wish I had a job, so I could get a day off.”
A very young 57, Curtis, and Ellie, have two adult sons, Tracy and David, and two grandchildren.
” I like life the way it is,” he said. “I enjoy doing what I do and I like being busy. I have no plans to scale back. The store isn’t a big money-maker, but it keeps me happy.”