Originally from Illinois, Lowe and his wife Katherine, aka "Rowdy Kate", moved to Kansas following the Civil War. In 1871, the couple moved to Newton, Kansas where they set up a saloon and brothel. In 1872, Kate snuck off with a gunman to visit a competing brothel. Joe found out and shot the man. The controversy forced the pair to relocate to the Wichita area where they bought another saloon in Delano, Kansas. This business venture that at first was extremely profitable. On October 27, 1873, Lowe shot and killed fellow saloon owner Edward "Red" Beard after Beard stormed into his saloon shooting at one of Lowe's "girls". Beard hit another girl with one shot, and a patron with another before Lowe shot him.
However, after numerous complaints of cheating and under-handed card deals, Lowe's business began to suffer. The couple moved to Texas, where they rode, on occasion, with the Sam Bass gang. The couple began drifting, gambling and occasionally working in saloons in numerous towns of the Old West. On February 11, 1899, Lowe was drunk in the Walrus Saloon in Denver, Colorado. He began insulting a man named E.A. Kimmel due to his disapproval of Kimmel being a policeman. Kimmel, knowing Lowe had a reputation as a gunman, drew his pistol shooting and killing Lowe, who turned out to be unarmed.
The Wichita City Eagle tells the story of Rowdy Joe Lowes death being in October 1874. The newspaper reported that Rowdy Joe was attacked by Indians en route to the Black Hills. He was shot by three bullets and instantly died.
- Miller, Nyle H.; Snell, Joseph W. (2003-03-01). Why the West Was Wild: A Contemporary Look at the Antics of Some Highly Publicized Kansas Cowtown Personalities. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 9780806135304.
- Williamson, G. R. (2012-05-15). Frontier Gambling. G.R. Williamson. ISBN 9780985278014.
- Enss, Chris (2015-02-20). Wicked Women: Notorious, Mischievous, and Wayward Ladies from the Old West. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9781493013920.
- "The Wichita city eagle. (Wichita, Kan.) 1872-1883, October 29, 1874, Image 2". 1874-10-29. ISSN 2158-9062. Retrieved 2016-01-02.