December 14, 2004

Historian Lowe, member of pioneer family, dies

Celesta Lowe was not only a descendant of a pioneering Nevada family, she lived Nevada history and chronicled what she learned of growing up in Death Valley, Calif., for periodicals including "Desert Magazine" and "Old West."

As a child, Lowe experienced the hardships of being raised in a Western desert town, residing for a while in Shoshone, Calif., in a house made of tent canvas and stacks of sand-filled, five-gallon gasoline cans.

Friends say Lowe often regaled them with tales of the Old West that she heard from her grandparents, pioneers Celestia Adelaide "Ma" Fairbanks and Ralph Jacobus "Dad" Fairbanks, for whom Fairbanks Springs in Nye County is named.

Celesta Adelaide Lowe, the first director of the UNLV library's Special Collections and an inductee into the Nevada Women's History Project Roll of Honor, died Thursday in Henderson. She was 87.

Services for the Las Vegas resident of nearly 70 years will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Bunkers Mortuary.

"What Celesta knew was very broad and deep, and she used that information to guide her research interests," said Southern Nevada historian Liz Warren of Goodsprings.

"She was a primary source. She experienced so much in the recorded history of Southern Nevada. But not only did she live it, she would find out more about it and give readers as accurate and as true a picture as she could."

Lowe wrote of diverse subjects ranging from 19th century Mormon silk worm raising in homes to noted 20th century Western character, prospector and showman Frank "Death Valley Scotty" Scott, who had attended her wedding.

Some of Lowe's work has been featured as part of the The Pioneering Women of Death Valley exhibit at the Shoshone Museum, including a display of research materials for her biography of female Western author B.M. Bower.

Born Celesta Lisle, Lowe lived for a while on a Fernley ranch. Her grandfather had the contract for grading the railroad bed from Milford, Utah, to Las Vegas. Her father, John Quincy "Jack" Lisle, was a prospector and copper miner. Her late brother, Ralph Fairbanks Lisle, was a Nye County commissioner.

As a child, Celesta also lived in Baker and Tecopa, Calif. She graduated from El Monte (Calif.) High School in 1934.

A year later she married David Walker "Deke" Lowe, a station agent for the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad. The couple, in the 1940s, owned and operated the Goodsprings Hotel. He preceded her in death.

In the 1950s, Lowe attended Nevada Southern University, now UNLV, and took home economics classes, before becoming secretary to the school's librarian, James Dickinson. Lowe became the first Special Collections librarian when the department was created in 1967, said UNLV manuscripts librarian Su Kim Chung.

In addition to writing for magazines, Lowe wrote a column for seven years in the Sunday supplement of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Lowe was a charter member of the Las Vegas chapter of the National League of Pen Women and a founding member of the Southern Nevada Historical Society.

She is survived by four children, David Lowe of Sandy Valley, Lisle Lowe of Amargosa Valley, Janet Lowe of Santa Fe, N.M., and Carlsbad, Calif., and Dale Lowe of Las Vegas; nine grandchildren; 10 great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchild.