Monday, May 1, 2017

Red Beard vs Rowdy Joe Lowe -- The Gunfight


On Thrusday, October 30th, 1873, The Wichita Eagle reported that "a melee Monday night between the proprietors of the two dance houses in West Wichita resulted in Rowdy Joe being shot in the back of the neck and Red Beard being wounded in the arm and hip."

Now before we get into this tale of the Old West, let me just say that there are many accounts of this gunfight. No kidding, this is one gunfight that you can pick and pull which story you like the best and just go with it. With saying that, let's get into this story about two saloon owners who went at it.

Edward T. "Red" Beard, who was said to be born sometime in 1828 was a gambler and saloon keeper. And yes, as stated in the Wichita Eagle, he was the son of the man who first settled Beardstown, Illinois. Being originally from Illinois, Red struck out on his own and soon settled in Virginia. It's believed that he was considered "a man of wealth" while there, that's because he's also said to have married well.

Then in 1861 at the outbreak of the Civil War, Red Beard left his life behind and moved west. Some say he was run out of Virginia one step ahead of a rope, but then who knows since that's only speculation since he left so swiftly.

After Virginia, he travel to California, and then onto Oregon and into Colorado where he is said to have developed a reputation as being a man with a bad temper who was supposedly good with a gun. That mix made him a nasty individual. And no different than today, knowing that meant that men facing him didn't take any chances. Folks knew it was a kill or be killed fight if faced against him.

By 1873, Red Beard settled in a boom town across the Arkansas River from Wichita, Kansas. It was there in Delano that he opened a saloon which is said to have been pretty successful for a time.

Of course that all came to a stop on October 27th, 1873, when he became angry with a saloon girl who worked next door at the saloon owned by "Rowdy Joe" Lowe. She was in his place and he wanted her to get out and go back to Rowdy Joe's.

Joseph Lowe was born in 1845, so Joe  was 17 years younger than Red. While he was also known as "Rowdy Joe" Lowe, because some say he was a gunfighter, most agree that he was just a gambler and saloon owner who had a reputation with his fists. Yes, Rowdy Joe was said to be a brawler.

Just like Wild Bill Hickok and the Earps, and like Red Beard, Rowdy Joe Lowe was originally from Illinois as well. Lowe and his wife Katherine, who believe it or not was known as "Rowdy Kate," moved to Kansas a few years after the end of the Civil War.

In 1871, the couple moved to Newton, Kansas, where they set up a saloon and brothel. Then in 1872, Rowdy Kate is said to have left with a pimp who was starting up a competing brothel. Rowdy Joe found her and the pimp, and just shot him.

The folks in Newton didn't like that much, so the citizens committee there forced both Rowdy Lowes to get out of town and take their attitudes with them to the Wichita area. That's how they came about buying their saloon in Delano, Kansas.

Supposedly the Lowes made good money with their saloon. That is until Red arrived in town and built a saloon 50 feet from the Lowes' saloon. While competition was said to be friendly at first, tempers flared when a few soldiers destroyed Red’s saloon.

That incident took place one evening when a young soldier had shot a woman from Beard’s saloon. In response, Beard opened fire on all of the soldiers. The soldiers supposedly retaliated that night by burning his saloon down.

Red Beard rebuilt his saloon, but he had animosity toward the Lowes because they profited from his place being burned to the ground. Things went from bad to worse when after a day of heavy drinking, Red decided to shoot Rowdy Joe right through the window of his saloon. Rowdy Joe returned fire and that gunfight ended with both surviving to tell the tale. The same outcome didn't happen on after their encounter later. 

On Monday, October 27th, Red Beard was again drinking heavily and getting angrier by the moment. At one point, he accused one of his prostitutes, a saloon girl by the name of Jo DeMerritt, of stealing from him. In response, DeMerritt threw a bottle at Red and immediately fled next door to Lowe’s saloon. 

So now, you're saying, but you said that the saloon girl worked for Lowe? And I did, but this is how such stories work out. Some sources say she worked for Red and fled to Rowdy Joe's, while others say that DeMerritt worked for Lowe.

Either way, Red Beard storms into Lowe's saloon and starts shooting at Jo DeMerritt who is also said to be one of Lowe's "girls". Point is that Beard shoot another of Lowe's girls by mistake.

Yes, the drunken Red Beard followed DeMerritt. He then barges into Lowe’s saloon. And in the smoke-filled saloon, Red mistook another prostitute, Annie Franklin, for DeMerritt. So Red fired a shot which struck Annie in the stomach.

When he saw this, Rowdy Joe immediately goes behind the bar and grabs a shotgun. He then exchanges shots with Red. It's said that one of Red Beard’s bullets grazed Rowdy Joe's neck. After that, a stray bullet from Red Beard hits one of Lowe's customers Bill Anderson in the head. Anderson was standing at the bar, and his said to be blinded for life.

After hitting Anderson, Red Beard runs with Rowdy Joe right after him. Now this is where it gets even more interesting, there is on story that says both men grab horses and race out of town in what then becomes a running gun battle.

Yes, both men are mounted and shooting at each other. And yes, in case you're wondering, I'm as surprised as you are that neither man shoots the other's horse.
Soon enough Rowdy Joe catches up with Red Beard. And then near the river bridge, when he comes into range, Rowdy Joe Lowe opens up and unloads both barrels of his shotgun into Red Beard. 

Red Beard was found critically wounded bleeding like a stuck pig from his arm and thigh. He was filled with buckshot. And even though that was the case, Red is said to have clung on to life for the next two weeks. But then finally, because of a loss of blood, he died on November 11th, 1873.

On Thrusday, November 13th, 1873, The Wichita Eagle reported that "E. T. Beard, better known as 'Red,' the proprietor of one of the dance houses across the river, paid the penalty of his misdeeds with his life on Tuesday  morning [November 11th]. It will be remembered that he was shot in a row at his dance house some two weeks since."

The article describes the post-mortem, which was attended by Rowdy Joe, who was charged with shooting Red. The articles stated, "He was formerly from Beardstown, Illinois, which was laid out and named after his father, who was wealthy. He was well educated, had Christian training, and has three children, two daughters and a son, nearly grown, who are now attending school in the east and know nothing of their father’s wild life in the west. Age about 45."

OK, so there is another story to this that says after chasing DeMerritt across the street, Red entered the Lowe Saloon where he accidentally shot and wounded a patron and another girl. That story says that Rowdy Joe grabbed his shotgun from behind the bar, went around to get behind Red Beard and opened up with both barrels. For me, I like the horse chase!

So now, according to one source, after the shooting near the river bridge, Rowdy Joe Lowe rode back to town, remember he's atop a horse, where he turned himself in to the local law. But did he turn himself in?

The reason that I ask is that a few weeks later on Thrusday, December 18th, 1873, The Wichita Eagle reported, "Notice offering $100 reward for the apprehension of one Joseph Lowe, alias 'Rowdy Joe,' a fugitive from justice from Sedgwick County, Kansas. He is about 28 years old, 5'9", heavy set, dark complexion, black hair and heavy black mustache, gruff manners, formerly proprietor of a dance house. Had a scar on right side of neck from a pistol ball."

Now while I have a hard time believing that a newspaper with print a notice of a bounty on someone if that person has already turned himself in, another source says that Rowdy Joe Lowe stood trial a few months later and he was found not guilty. In fact, some reports say that most in Delano, Kansas, considered what Lowe did as having done the town a favor. Yes, really more good than harm. From what I gather, getting rid of Red Beard was seen that way even though the newspaper didn't think so.

And as for Rowdy Joe Lowe and wife, well their saloon is said to have been extremely profitable at first. But things changed after the gunfight with Red Beard.

Of course that's the problem with shooting someone in places like a saloon. Some customers say it doesn't bother them as long as the booze isn't watered down too much, while others say the Hell with that place and go find another more quiet watering hole amongst the many that were available. And friends, unlike the movies where an Old West town only has one saloon, that is not the way it was. Usually boomtowns had a number of them. For example, Tombstone was home to more than 100 saloons within two year of their boom in 1879.

But, because of a number of complaints about cheating and under-handed card deals, word started to go around that the place was only shaking down people. Soon Lowe's saloon began to go down hill quick. The couple decided to cut their loses and moved to Texas.

Some say they rode with the Sam Bass gang. Others say they spent some time is Dodge City, but were eventually told to get out of town. They then supposedly travel to Tombstone, Arizona, where they may have set up a bar and brothel with Big Nose Kate.

That place is said to have had a reputation for ruthlessness. The no rules places had but one rule and that was that "no man should leave with money in his pockets." Some said the price of their drinks varied with how drunk you were, and it's also said that big time gamblers, the high rollers, might be drugged, robbed, and tossed in a gully out back. Because of this, the couple began drifting, gambling and occasionally working in saloons in various towns.

Then on February 11th, 1899, Rowdy Joe Lowe was drunk in the Walrus Saloon in Denver, Colorado. He began insulting police officer E.A. Kimmel. It was very apparent that Lowe was trying to goat Officer Kimmel into a fight.

Because Officer Kimmel had already heard about Lowe's reputation as a killer, even if it was of just one man, he knew better than to take chance when up against a known killer. So without hesitation, Kimmel drew his pistol and shot and killed Rowdy Joe Lowe.

Some say Lowe was unarmed, it's believed that he had a derringer on him. And as for Rowdy Kate? After Joe Lowe was shot dead, she disappeared and was never seen again.

You might find it fascinating that another Wichita newspaper, the short-lived The Wichita City Eagle, ran a story about how Rowdy Joe Lowe was killed in October of 1874. Yes, 25 years earlier than when he really was shot dead. That newspaper reported that Rowdy Joe was attacked by Indians en route to the Black Hills. They said that he was hit by three bullets and died instantly. Imagine that.

Tom Correa





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