Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Miss Lotta -- San Francisco's Favorite

By Paisley Kirkpatrick
The miners in the Sierra of Northern California were used to the loneliness, dirt, and disappointments that came with the search for Gold. Gold of another sort appeared in 1853 to ease this routine and her name was Lotta Crabtree. From her beginning as a six year old until her retirement at the age of 45, she became one of the wealthiest and most beloved American entertainers of the late 19th century.
The tiny, red-haired, six-year-old jigged and danced to their clapping hands, while they showered her with nuggets and coins which her mother hastily collected in her apron.
Born Charlotte Mignon Crabtree in 1847 in New York City to John Ashworth Crabtree, a bookseller and Mary Ann (Livesey) Crabtree, an upholsterer, both of English stock, Like so many others, her father dreamed of finding a fortune in the gold fields in California. They packed up and left New York in 1851.
Lotta's exposure to the life of the theater and its inhabitants started early while they resided in San Francisco. She began traveling to mining camps where she became famous for singing ballads and dancing for the miners. The family moved back to San Francisco In 1856. Lotta started touring the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys. She added a banjo to her repertoire and frequently performed in the city’s variety halls and various amusement parks. By 1859 she became known as Miss Lotta, the San Francisco Favorite.
Occasionally Lotta suffered from stage fright. Her mother, who once performed on the stage, coaxed her out of her fear. Mary Ann wasn't only a typical stage mother, but also a shrewd business woman. Because she didn't trust banks nor paper money, Mary Ann carried all of Lotta’s earnings -- consisting of gold nuggets and coins -- in a large leather grip. When this became too heavy, she transferred the earnings to a steamer trunk.
Considering how vast the amount of money and other valuables they carried around, it's amazing they were never robbed.


  1. What an adventuresome and brave family to pack up and leave New York in 1851 and travel to California! And what a adventuresome profession Miss Lotta chose for herself! Thanks, Paisley for the interesting post reporting on yet another unique entertainer in our western history.

  2. Hi Cheri. Thank you for stopping to read my post. It's amazing how bold some women were in that era. My own great grandmother was an actress on the Tivoli Stage in San Francisco. I love learning about the past.

  3. Paisley, thanks for sharing Lottie's life with us. She was a beautiful woman, so I imagine she would have been a hit even if she sang off key. :)

  4. Thanks for stopping by today. I've always thought Lotta remarkable. A lot of entertainers back then were talented.


Thank you for visiting Sweethearts of the West!