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Dec. 12, 2008

Bob Owens


Nye County History

Bob Owens became undersheriff of Clark County.


Longtime Pahrump resident Bob Owens was born in Searchlight in 1910. When he was 7, his family moved to Las Vegas, where they built a house on 40 acres about three miles northwest of downtown that his mother had purchased for $1.25 per acre.

In 1934, Owens went to work for the police department in Las Vegas. Officers took turns walking a beat or riding in a car.

Construction of Hoover Dam (Boulder Dam, as it was then known) began in March 1931, and the last concrete was poured in May 1935.

Owens said the biggest law enforcement problem associated with the dam was that workers "would come in at nights and get drunk and have fights. Unless the fight was really hurting somebody, we didn't even pay attention to them because there was one on every corner. But if they got serious about it and would fight with broken bottles and somebody had to be taken and be sewed up at the hospital, then we had to intervene and take care of it."

In 1942 he transferred to the Clark County Sheriff's Department and was eventually promoted to undersheriff. While working for the sheriff, Owens got to know Ben "Bugsy" Siegel, who had taken over construction of the Flamingo Hotel in 1945. Siegel, of course, had deep mob connections and was gunned down by the mob in his mansion in Beverly Hills just six months after the Flamingo's opening the day after Christmas in 1946.

Owens's description of Siegel is somewhat at odds with Bugsy's popular image.

"He wasn't a real big man," Owens said. "He was about 5'9" or 10" and had dark hair and slim. He was a real jovial guy; he would ride around with us in the sheriff's car and tell us stories and stuff, you know, about things that had happened. He was just a nice guy to be around ... He didn't have any bodyguards. ... I know he had a bunch of partners in with him to build the Flamingo Hotel. But as to who they were, I didn't know."

First Trip to Pahrump

Owens first set foot in the Pahrump Valley in 1924. He and a man named Track had come to Amargosa Valley to retrieve railroad ties from the old Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad, which had been discontinued in 1918.

They collected 600 ties and stacked them behind the little mountain near present-day Crystal. Later, they discovered that someone had stolen the ties.

On that trip, Track and young Owens drove over to Pahrump, stopping at Johnnie on the way. An old prospector named Matt Cusick lived at Johnnie. He had a house but had constructed a screened-in, cage-like structure alongside the road. He had a bed in it and when a car came by, he would flag it down just to talk to somebody and get the latest news.

On that first trip, Cusick stopped Track and Owens, chatted a bit, then invited them to stay for dinner. Being a town boy, Owens was enthralled to see many burros wandering about the site. He followed them around and tried to talk to them.

At one point when he was standing near the house, he could hear Cusick and Track talking. Cusick said he would be serving burro steaks for dinner and wondered what the kid would think when he found out. Owens didn't let on what he had heard. In his oral history, conducted by Harry Ford, Owens said, "After we ate the steaks and had a big dinner, I turned loose and brayed like a burro. The man's eyes like to [have] popped out of his head."

In the 1930s, a couple of men brought some unbroken horses from the Pahrump Ranch. Owens helped drive the bunch to Las Vegas. The horses had gotten fat in Pahrump feeding on good grass and mesquite. The owners had pastured hogs with the horses and occasionally would shoot a horse and let the hogs feed on the carcass.

In 1944 Owens bought the old Bill Beck property headquartered at Crystal Spring several miles east of Johnnie on Mount Sterling at the north end of the Spring Mountains above Pahrump.

He began running cattle and horses on the property, which included a 196,000-acre lease of Bureau of Land Management land. Part of the lease included portions of what is now the Nevada Test Site, which he re-leased back to the government when the test site was established.

He continued to work in law enforcement in Las Vegas, spending weekends and vacations on the ranch.

On April 22, 1952, Owens and his wife Esther were working cattle near Gold Spring on the other side of the mountain overlooking the test site when an artist appeared on the scene. He told them he had climbed up the mountains to watch a scheduled test of an atomic bomb.

It wasn't long before a bomb went off and the artist began to paint the moment the mushroom cloud rose above the flat in the distance. A reproduction of that painting is included here.

In 1966, Owens retired from law enforcement in Las Vegas and moved onto 40 acres in the Pahrump Valley he purchased from Chuck Connelly. He divided his time between his place in the valley and the ranch until after 1986, when Esther died.

Perhaps the biggest thing to happen in Las Vegas while Owens was involved in law enforcement there was a plane crash that made headlines everywhere.

In the late 1930s, Carole Lombard was one of the most famous and admired film stars in the world. She had a long list of movie hits to her credit and was the highest-paid female movie star in the world, earning $465,000 per year.

In 1939, she married Clark Gable (the King, as he was sometimes called), then the most popular actor in America. Her marriage to Gable only enhanced both stars' images. Lombard and Gable were the perfect pair, beautiful and madly in love.

Carole Lombard was a true patriot. In the late 1930s, she paid out more than 80 percent of her income in taxes and, far from resenting it, declared she was proud to do so for her country.

Little more than a month after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Lombard was asked to help raise money for the war effort. Accompanied by her mother, she traveled from Los Angeles to Indiana on a war-bond promotion drive. Though the effort was a huge success, she dreaded the long train ride back to Southern California.

Against the advice of her mother, who was a numerologist and warned of an impending accident or death, she decided to fly home.

The trip from Indiana went smoothly and the DC-3 made several refueling stops; the last one at what is now Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas. The plane took on 225 gallons of fuel and was airborne at 7:07 p.m., Jan. 16, 1942, bound for the Burbank Airfield, where Clark Gable awaited his beautiful wife.

In his oral history, Owens says people heard the plane fly "real low and going real slow" over Las Vegas. Newspapers reported that a tremendous explosion was heard at 7:23. In good flying weather, the plane had failed to clear the top of Mount Potosi in the Spring Mountains by less than 60 feet and slammed into a giant cliff at the peak's summit.

There were no survivors among the 22 passengers and crew. Both Carole Lombard and her mother died instantly.

Owens was part of the crew that was sent to retrieve the bodies the next day. There was snow on the mountain and it was cold. He said four or five bodies were found relatively intact. The remainder of the victims existed only in pieces that had to be carried off in blankets.

One report said a body with blonde hair was removed; it may have been Lombard.

One of the horses and one of the mules carrying bodies and blankets filled with body parts fell over cliffs while trying to get down the mountain.

Meanwhile, Clark Gable was notified of the accident and flew to Las Vegas. He stayed in a bungalow at the El Rancho Vegas. Owens said, "I saw Clark Gable. He came to the police station and later went up there. He was in bad shape. He was so broken up." His good friend Spencer Tracy rushed to his side in Las Vegas.

In the wreckage, a soldier found a damaged diamond and ruby clip that Gable had given Lombard, and friends said Gable carried it in a small box worn on a chain around his neck until he remarried years later.

Following the accident, Gable, the King of Hollywood, volunteered for duty as an enlisted man in the Air Force and asked for the most dangerous assignments.

When driving west on Highway 160 from Las Vegas toward Mountain Springs, once you pass Fort Apache, look to the southwest and the big mountain there. That's Potosi.

Toward the south end of the mountain's summit, you'll see a big cliff right on top. That is where the accident occurred.

Christmas pageant

Saved by Grace Lutheran Church will present a Christmas pageant at the 9 a.m. service, Dec. 14 in the multi-purpose room of Mt. Charleston Elementary, 1521 E. Idaho St.

Call 751-5754 for more information.

Focus on food for the holidays

The Family Resource Center provided Thanksgiving dinner for a total of 1144 persons and are expecting twice that number to request Christmas dinner.

Their focus is food for Christmas and most of the available funds in the Christmas account will go toward the purchase of hams, turkeys and other components of the Christmas meal.

Toys will be distributed as they become available through Toys for Tots.

They welcome all donations and food contributions and are encouraging community members to adopt one of the families registered with the organization for the holiday.

Call 727-3885 for more information.

Marie Callender's pies

The Cinderella Girls will be taking orders for Marie Callender's pies for Christmas until Dec. 18.

Pick up will be 1-3 p.m. Dec. 23 in the Walmart parking lot.

Call 751-2932 to order.

Toys for Tots

Toys for Tots season runs through Dec. 20.

Help to give a needy child a merry Christmas by making a donation or cash contribution.

Collection boxes are at Walmart and many other businesses.

The Toys for Tots headquarters is located at 2050 N. Highway 160, Unit 700.

Donations can be mailed to Toys for Tots, P.O. Box 2869, Pahrump, NV 89041.

Volunteers are need to help sort and inventory toy donations and various other tasks.

The "Toys for Tots" trailer will be set up Dec. 17 at Walmart for toy donations.

Call coordinator Dorothy Ryans at 764-2000 to help.

AGLOW meets

AGLOW, the interdenominational international Christian Women's Organization, will meet at 9:30 a.m. Dec. 20 at the Rock Vineyard Church next to Smith's Food and Drug.

The guest speaker will be Linda DeMeo. This will be the Christmas potluck brunch. Childcare is provided. Call 727-5181 for more information.

Santa, food and toys

Oasis Outreach Motorcycle will sponsor a food and toy distribution on Dec. 21 at Walmart. Santa will be there. Call 727-7227 for information.

Gunfighter Christmas

The Pahrump Gunfighters will have their seventh annual Children's Christmas Party, noon-2 p.m., Dec. 21 at Dusty Flats, next to the StageStop Lounge and Casino, 100 Stagecoach Road, off of Blagg Road.

There will be a cowboy Santa, music, prizes and refreshments for children 12 and under.

Call 751-3458 for more information or information about joining the gunfighters.

Lessons and carols service

There will be a lessons and carols service at 10:30 a.m. Dec. 21 at St. Martin's in the Desert Episcopal Church, 631 W. Irene Street.

Call 537-1115 for more information.

Grief support group

Nathan Adelson Hospice is sponsoring an Adult Grief Support Group for those grieving the loss of a loved one at 4 p.m. on Wednesdays in the office, 1480 E. Calvada Blvd., Suite 900.

Call 751-6700 for more information.

The meetings in November and December will focus on the challenges of getting through the holidays and discussing ways of coping with the holiday season.

Children's Christmas Program

The Children's Sunday School Christmas Program for Pahrump United Methodist Church will be at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 20 in the church, 1300 E. Highway 372.

There will be birthday cake for Jesus following the play.

The public is invited.

Call 727-6767 for more information.

Gift wrapping booth

The Salvation Army and the Pahrump Kiwanis Club will host a gift wrapping booth through Dec. 24 at Walmart.

For comment or questions, please e-mail
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