The miners in the Sierra of Northern California were used to the loneliness, dirt and disappointments that came with the search for Gold, but Gold of another sort appeared in 1853 to ease this routine and her name was Lotta Crabtree. 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, Lotta was exposed early to the life of the theater and its inhabitants in San Francisco when her father left New York in 1851, looking for gold. Lotta began traveling to all of the mining camps performing ballads and dancing for the miners. In 1856, the family moved back to San Francisco where Lotta toured the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys, added the banjo to her repertoire and became frequently in demand in the city’s variety halls and amusement parks. By 1859 she had become “Miss Lotta, the San Francisco Favorite”. Lotta occasionally developed a case of “stage fright” but with a little coaxing from Mary Ann, once on stage became a professional. Mary Ann was not only the quintessential stage mother but also a shrewd business woman. She did not trust banks nor paper money and carried all of Lotta’s earnings (nuggets and coins) in a great leather grip. When this became too heavy, it was transferred to a steamer trunk. Considering all of the valuables they carried around, it is amazing they were never robbed.