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Rowdy Joe and Rowdy Kate Lowe

“Rowdy” Joe Lowe was born in 1845. Not much is known about Joe until after the Civil War, when he and his wife, “Rowdy” Kate, moved from Illinois into Kansas. In 1872 they opened their first saloon and "bawdy" house. They were known to run a rough establishment where men were encouraged to drink heavily, spend lots of money, and be swindled in shady card deals.

The Lowes made good money with their saloon, until Edward “Red” Beard entered town. He set up a saloon 50 feet from the Lowes' saloon, and the two establishments were soon in hot competition. Friendly at first, tempers flared when soldiers destroyed Red’s saloon. Early one evening a young soldier shot a woman from Beard’s saloon. In response Beard opened fire on the soldiers. They retaliated later that night by burning his saloon down.

While Beard rebuilt his saloon, the Lowes profited from his misfortune. Beard began to begrudge the Lowes' prosperity. After a day of heavy drinking, Beard decided to shoot Rowdy Joe Lowe through the window of his saloon. A gunfight ensued; both Beard and Lowe survived. A young man, William “Billie” Anderson, was shot in the head and permanently blinded.

Later that night after the gunfight, Beard took to the streets looking for Joe Lowe. Lowe shot Beard from behind, thus ending the rivalry. A few months later a short trial ensued and Joe Lowe was found not guilty. Most considered he had done the town more good than harm by getting rid of Beard. However, when Lowe was charged for the shooting of Billie Anderson, he and Kate decided to leave town.

They spent some time is Dodge City, but were eventually told to leave. They then traveled to Tombstone, Arizona, where they set up a bar and brothel with Big Nose Kate. The facility developed a reputation for ruthlessness, with no rules except that "no man should leave with money in his pockets." Some said the price of the drinks varied with the degree of intoxication, and high rollers might be drugged, robbed, and tossed in a gully out back.

Eventually Joe Lowe was killed in Denver, Colorado, by policeman E.A. Kimmel. Rowdy Kate disappeared. The duo managed to make a good deal of money in their time, and remain among the outlaw stories of Kansas.

Entry: Lowe, "Rowdy Joe" and "Rowdy Kate"

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: February 2011

Date Modified: May 2012

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.