LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A gardener adept at producing colorful flowers or a rugged lawman? A rather odd puzzle when it comes to tracing the origins of Owens Avenue, which stretches some 10 miles, west to east, from Martin Luther King Boulevard to the base of Frenchman Mountain, south of Nellis Air Force Base.

“Asphalt Memories: Origins of Some of the Street Names of Clark County,” by historian Mark Hall-Patton, of “Pawn Stars” fame, suggests two possibilities for the street name. It could be named for Mosten T. “Moses” Owens, an early settler of North Las Vegas, or Robert William Owens, a Clark County undersheriff from the early 1940s to the mid-1950s whose family owned a ranch in the area.

Admittedly, Hall-Patton leaned toward the undersheriff in his book because in the 1980s, when there was a push to rename the roadway, the family of Robert William Owens raised strong objections with Clark County officials.

“I couldn’t say one way or the other,” Hall-Patton said, “but the family was absolutely convinced that it was named for Robert William Owens.”

But after a little more research — some by yours truly — neither Hall-Patton nor fellow local expert Michael Green, a professor in the UNLV history department, is sure about the naming. And there’s even more intrigue.

Here’s why: Mosten T. Owens most likely is one Charles Mostyn Owen — no “s” — an Englishman whose career included time in Utah infiltrating the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the late 1890s and early 1900s to report to authorities illegal polygamous unions. As for why or how the two could be confused, we’ll get to that momentarily.

The Englishman was prominent in Las Vegas some 10 to 15 years before the undersheriff, and because of his penchant for growing flowers, particularly tulips and roses, on 2 1/2 acres in the desert, he became something of a celebrity.

Charles Mostyn Owen penned a first-person article for the November 1930 issue of Better Homes and Gardens, detailing how he turned 2 1/2 acres of Las Vegas desert into a lush rose garden. (Courtesy Internet Archive/archive.org)

Owen, who died in 1938 and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, was friendly with Charles “Pop” Squires and wife, Delphine. Pop and Delphine ran the Las Vegas Age newspaper, and Owen’s green thumb and his Amargosa Rose Ranch, north of Main Street and Stewart Avenue, were praised often in print. Can’t be sure, but that rose ranch on property off “the Salt Lake highway” most likely was near the corner of what now is North Main Street and Owens Avenue, part of a North Las Vegas boundary line.

North Las Vegas history expert Joseph Thompson, also associated with the UNLV history department, says the ranch most likely was just north of Owens Avenue, between Civic Center Drive on the east and North McDaniel Street on the west. He believes the road is named after Owen, given that the ranch’s location aligns with the thoroughfare.

North Las Vegas history expert Joseph Thompson figures Charles Owen’s Armagosa Rose Ranch was north of East Owens Avenue between what is present day North McDaniel Street and Civic Center Drive.

In a 1946 Las Vegas Age story by Delphine Squires, Owen is said to have “a gorgeous mass of hundreds of tulips on display in the spring of 1927. Never had the writer seen tulips of such size and coloring. Mr. Owen also had hundreds of strong, thrifty young rose bushes, proving beyond a doubt that Las Vegas is perfectly adapted to the growing of fine roses.”

Owen was born in 1859 in Oxford, England, and came to the United States in the spring of 1878, first landing in Oregon to work as a railroad flagman, according to several historical publications. He was educated at Oxford and found careers as a civil engineer and then as a reporter, including with the New York Journal. His reputation as a Mormon informer covered the late 1890s to 1907 and reportedly included findings on Reed Smoot, whose election to the U.S. Senate in 1902 was hotly debated because of accusations of polygamy. Smoot was cleared in Senate hearings that lasted nearly five years; he served Utah until 1933 as a Republican in the U.S. Senate.

Some time in the early 1920s, just after the death of his wife, Mattie, Owen relocated from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas. It was about the same time Thomas Williams bought land in what is now North Las Vegas and began selling plots to settlers.

Owen turned to gardening after reportedly arguing with one Las Vegas valley local John Miller (there’s an uncommon name, right?) about whether roses would grow in the Southern Nevada desert. According to a 1953 Las Vegas Review-Journal story by John F. Cahlan, Owen set out to disprove Miller’s assertion that roses could not grow in the hot, dry climate. “In about a month or so, (Owen) had several varieties of roses growing beautifully in the soil,” Cahlan writes.

How well did he grow roses and other flowers? His November 1930 first-person article in Better Homes and Gardens richly details his work in changing the soil and also tells of befriending birdlife and having two pet lizards to help keep flies away.

He closes the article, saying: “Today my name as a personage is almost unknown even in the immediate neighborhood; but here and all over the state of Nevada I am known as “The Old Rose Man of Las Vegas.” This is my earldom. It has been worth while.”

To Green, the street being named for Owen, the Mormon informer turned gardener, makes some sense, one, because he showed up well before the undersheriff, and, two, those who gravitated to North Las Vegas, as it would come to be known, were skirting prohibition.

Both Green and Hall-Patton suggest that Owen, at the time, also might have answered to or used Mosten as a first name because his earlier activity as a Mormon informer could have angered some locals with family ties to Salt Lake City and the church. Nothing like laying low, right?

In Owen’s obituary, which ran on the front page of the Las Vegas Age on Dec. 16, 1938, he was referred to as the “Father of Roses.” The obit also mentions his work infiltrating the Mormon church.

As for Owen and Owens? “Someone says, ‘Let’s go to the Owens Rose Ranch,’ and there goes the apostrophe,” Green says.

As for Robert William Owens, his work in law enforcement included riding in his sheriff’s car with Bugsy Siegel — “one of the best guys that you would ever want to meet,” Owens said in a 1995 interview — and retrieving bodies from the 1942 Mount Potosi plane crash that killed actress Carole Lombard.

As for our history puzzle: Owens Avenue. Is it named for the Englishman, the Mormon informer turned gardener or the undersheriff.

Maybe both. Both Hall-Patton and Green believe Mosten T. “Moses” Owens and Charles Mostyn Owen are the same person. And it could be that the street’s name evolved from the historical contributions of both the Englishman and the undersheriff.

“This makes sense to me, because both men were in the same area in an early period of the area’s development,” Green said.

Adds Hall-Patton: “Street names can be hit and miss. Someone puts up a sign on a dirt path that leads to someone’s house, and pretty soon that dirt path takes on the family’s name.

“This is one of those areas where we’re weighing oral history.”