The following is an exerpt from
the unused portions of Glen Hearst Taylor's autobiography, "The Way It Was With Me"
(published in 1979)
It has been published here for the first time by permission from Arod Taylor.
When my sister, Lena, was just three Papa was stricken with a malady which no available
doctor could diagnose much less suggest a remedy that would work although several were
prescribed and tried. In later life, and in retrospect, Papa diagnosed his ailment
as yellow jaundice, a disease now known as hepatitis.
When the frontier sawbones saw that he could not cope with Papa's case he told him that if
he ever expected to get well he had, better go to Oregon. When a patient lit out on
an overland journey like that in those days it was a pretty safe bet that whether or not
the treatment prescribed was efficacious, the patient would never be back to confront the
instigator of the wild goose chase. It was a handy device not available to present day
practitioners for getting rid of patients with obstinate ailments which put the doctor in
a bad light.
So in the early spring of 1902*the
long trek to Oregon began. Up through Oklahoma and Colorado and on up into the Rockies on
roads that were scarcely more than trails, Papa and Mama and their covered wagon full of
nine voracious young made their slow and tortuous way.
The family stopped in Denver for two or three days before heading up into the Rockies.
Papa had a rich relative there who took them in and treated them royally.
The most memorable part of that royal treatment was his taking them to a stage show. A
musical comedy. The star was an accomplished actress and while all the children were
awestruck with their first attendance at a theatrical production three year old Lena had
been goggle eyed and for days could talk of nothing except "that pretty lady in the
When the family came to the first gold boom town in the Rockies up out of Denver, Papa was
staggered by the profligate spending of the roistering gold seekers on whiskey, women and
He was astonished at the number of honky tonks, bars and whorehouses that ran full blast,
twenty-four hours a day.
The family finances were running low. It was plain that they could never reach
Oregon on what they had left. Something had to be done and Papa decided that here, where
money flowed like water, would be the ideal place to do it.
Too enervated by his nagging ailment to do manual labor, Papa decided to replenish the
family's dwindling resources by doing what he did best. He would preach to these
wild and rowdy miners who were obviously elbowing their way to perdition as fast as their
"If," Papa reasoned, "they are half as generous in contributing to the Lord
as they are in buying their way to hell then surely it will be no problem to recoup the
He invested a goodly share of the family's remaining dollars in some handbills.
HEAR! HEAR! HEAR!
was the attention grabber across the top of the flyer. Below that exciting
admonition and in even larger type were the two magic words which would guarantee a crowd
in any town in Texas.
Papa's modest copy then invited the sin soaked miners to:
"Hear The Famous Evangelist Rev. P. J. Taylor Deliver His
Original and Eloquent Sermon -
CAN LIVE FOREVER"
In smaller type was this further enticement; "Songs to gladden
the heart by the entire Taylor Family." And "The Family" was
sent scurrying to "bill the town" and spread the glad hidings.
Having the family sing as an added inducement to draw a crowd to hear Papa preach was not
something new. For the past several years Papa had made a rather good living for his
family by preaching and the fame of his singing family, as well as his eloquence and
ability to convert sinners, had spread until he had a pretty good thing going. His
mysterious illness and banishment to Oregon had put an end to it all.
The family's fame as singers was well earned. Both Papa and Mama had fine voices and
their mutually begotten children shared their talent. Sadly enough Papa's children
by his first wife did not.
Only a corporal's guard showed up for the revival meeting.
Two things seemed apparent. One was that the fame of Rev. P. J. Taylor and his singing
family had not spread to the Colorado gold fields and the second was that these God
forsaken miners would rather live it up in the here and now than take time out to learn
how they could "live forever".
Passing the hat was hardly worth the effort.
Papa was philosophical about the matter. "If these God damned miners don't want
to hear me preach they can go to hell" he said.
Taken in context his words were patently not sacrilegious and he must have felt better
after having delivered them.
By the next morning Papa had another idea. He had shrewdly observed that the pleasure
prone miners liked to be entertained.
Any type of amusement was plainly an invariable sellout. While Papa's new scheme, for
scheme it was, nay not have been downright dishonest it undoubtedly was a little devious
and to say the least it was lacking in candor.
He had more handbills printed and they were rather ingenious.
"R E W A R D !"
was the one word "come on" in huge
Papa had not only observed that the miners liked to be entertained but that one of their
main sources of entertainment, and certainly the most harmless and cheapest, was the
reading of "REWARD" notices. The mining towns were overrun with scoundrels of
every kind and description and consequently there were a good many "reward"
posters tacked on every suitable surface.
Apprehending or even helping to apprehend one of the villains could pay off better than
digging for gold. Papa's stroke of genius would guarantee that his brainchild would
Under the word "REWARD" was yet
another attention riveter -
The copy that followed continued in the same vein.
"You will be well rewarded if you see these members of the
famous Taylor Family.
P. J. Taylor
Well-known Texas singer of cowboy songs.
Best known for her rendition of
and other old time and popular ballads.
The Taylor Brothers - Ferris, Slade, Quintus
and E.K. popularly known as The Taylor Male
These precocious youngsters delight each and
everyone with their close harmony.
Last But Not Least
Lena Taylor -- Age 3
The Little Girl With the Big Voice
America's youngest and most talented juvenile
At this point and in bold type the word WANTED! was used once again followed by -
"We want you and cordially invite you and your friends to
attend this enjoyable evenings entertainment."
A last paragraph under the word REWARD! read:
"One and all you will be amply rewarded by attending and
listening to this talented and gifted company of vocal artists.
Tonight at the Opera House - 8 P.M. - Admission 50 cents."
The bills wouldn't be ready until noon. Papa hired a piano player whose regular job
was playing in one of the honky tonks.
His days work started at midnight so he was free to pick up the extra money.
When the family had been the tail to Papa's kite and sang as an added attraction to his
preaching everyone had behaved very properly and sung only hymns. Now the whole
approach had to be changed.
The family rehearsed all morning trying to transform a group of breadfaced church singers
into a happy, smiling company of entertainers just bursting with pep and personality.
Just one thing saved the day. Talent! They had it -- These Taylors and others not yet born
would have it and take to show business like a duck takes to water.
At this time of need Ferris, the oldest brother, displayed a talent for directing and he
took over by common consent.
Although the only songs anyone had sang in public were hymns the boys had learned a number
of popular tunes individually and as a quartette.
Now they borrowed some of the ideas they had picked up at the Denver performance and
instead of standing like wooden Indians the quartette swayed back and forth across stage,
each of the boys with a hand on the shoulder of the one ahead and they executed several
other simple steps to liven things up. Each of the boys sang his solo number and his
encore for the others and they helped each other with suggestions.
There were a number of songs about children which were popular at the time and Lena had
been singing them while the others were confined to hymns, so her repertoire was unchanged
except for her entrance.
She had been taught to sit quietly in the front row with the rest of the family at Papa's
meetings and when he motioned, walk to him in a very prissy, prim and proper manner and
just stand there and sing. To liven up her professional debut Ferris coached her to
hippety-hop on stage.
The handbills were ready at noon as promised. Mama served dinner in the twelve by
fourteen tent which was always pitched beside the covered wagon at every stop and the four
boys struck out to bill the town.
They must have done a conscientious job because the hall was packed that night.
Papa was proud as a peacock at the success he had scored with his stroke of genius. Freed
of the inhibitions engendered by a religious atmosphere, this was a far different audience
from the respectful and restrained little crowd which had attended the previous nights
"preaching" and listened to the singing without applauding or any other
indication of approval.
On this, the first night of what proved to be a new way of life for the musically endowed
members of the family, the "show" got off to a slow start. Papa insisted
on making a "little" speech before the curtain went up. (Papa never missed
a chance to make a speech) While Mama had been opposed to the idea of the family
becoming professional entertainers, now that the die was cast she wanted the undertaking
to be a success. So now she stood in the wings chewing her fingernails. She knew
Papa, and after he had introduced and eulogized each member of the family and still went
on talking she started making discreet motions for him to come on off stage. He scowled at
her but she persisted and after he had told a humorous story or two, which he had
judiciously cleaned up a little out of respect for the family, not the audience, and which
didn't go over too badly - he reluctantly gave up the spotlight.
When he came off stage he scolded Mama "What's the matter, with you, woman?" he
asked and irritably informed her that, "I was just warming them up."
For the opening number the entire family was on stage, including the non-singing progeny
of Papa's first marriage who simply mouthed the words without making any sound.
The group started singing "Dixie" a few seconds before the curtain went up. It
was a real rouser and got a big hand as well as a few rebel yells.
While the audience was applauding Papa looked out through the inevitable peek hole in the
tormentor and observed that some of the customers didn't appear too happy and were sitting
on their hands. It had been thirty-seven years since the Civil War ended but nevertheless
it was plain that there were a few partisans out there who were on the other side and that
starting things off with Dixie hadn't been an unmixed blessing.
Papa's fertile brain started working out a strategy to rectify the situation.
When the applause for Dixie had died down Ferris, who was fourteen, sang a bass solo. He
had a fine voice and could really get down there. Such a big deep voice coming from such a
kid made it the more remarkable.
After Ferris had sung his number and taken a well deserved encore Papa got back in the act
by singing a range song in a high, twangy, yelping Texas cowhand style. Actually
that wasn't his natural voice at all. He sang bass in church. He was encored and was as
tickled as a kid with a striped stick of candy.
It was the first time he had ever sang "professionally."
The reason I am able to give a "blow by blow" account of this trip through
Colorado is because it was such a memorable experience for my older brothers, and they
loved to talk about it, at length and in detail.
Brother E.K., who was six, sang a solo as did Quintus, who was ten, and twelve year old
Mama sang "Juanita."
Each of the boys as well as the quartette, had been rewarded for their efforts by the
audience throwing silver coins on stage - nearly fifty dollars in all. They were hooked.
BOY! This was THE life!
Strangely enough there were no coins tossed on stage when Papa or Mama sang. It was
obvious that they were the parents of the children and evidently the audience felt that
throwing coins, which they would have to pick up, would be demeaning and disrespectful.
Lena was scheduled to close the show.
She came hippety-hopping on stage as Ferris had directed, with all the verve, stage
presence and carefree self assurance of Eva Tanguay.
The rough audience chuckled with delight and melted like butter in a chinook.
They gigged each other in the ribs with their elbows which gesture could mean any number
of different things, but to Ferris looking through the peek hole it meant: "Look at
that, will you? Now ain't she cute?"
The pianist played the intro to her song but Lena did not sing. Instead she went
into a routine that had the audience in stitches as well as the astonished family watching
from the wings. Without ever having confided in anyone, but strictly on her own and with
no coaching, she demonstrated that she as well as the boys had learned something from
witnessing that stage performance in Denver. For days Lena had prattled about the leading
woman, whom she called "That pretty lady." Now, with amazing fidelity she
imitated the seductive routine her idol had gone through before singing her opening song.
Lena stood a moment and then while the piano player segued she put her hands on her hips
turned quartering away from the audience with bent knee and her heel off the floor and
looked seductively over her shoulder just like that glamorous creature she idolized. It
also happened that this flirtatious bit of business was a stock item with the girls who
entertained in the honky tonks. The audience recognized the pose and laughed and applauded
But when Lena rolled her eyes and fluttered her lashes at them they roared, and for once,
without being urged they obeyed the old request they had heard a thousand times from honky
tonk M.C.s - "Give the little lady a big hand."
Her captivated audience not only gave her a big hand, they also showered the stage with a
dozen or more halves and silver dollars -- and that generous gesture was prompted solely
by her posing and giving them the old "come on." She hadn't sang a note.
That was the first time Lena had experienced the delicious thrill of seeing and hearing
the flash and clank of hard cash being rained about her, but she knew what to do.
She proceeded to pick it up. Every last dollar. Occasionally as she stooped her back would
be toward the audience and they would roar with laughter as they got a fleeting flash of
her frilly lace panties ala can can.
After this happened a few times Lena figured out that the outbursts came only when her
back was turned but she couldn't understand, why. She brought the house down when she held
the stooped over pose, stuck her head around from behind the concealment of her legs and
looked at the convulsed customers with an innocent expression of "What in the world
are you laughing at?"
Besides the laughter and applause that bit of business brought another shower of cold
cash. Before Lena could decide just where to start the new harvest, Mama called her to the
wings and told her "Don't turn your back to the audience, it isn't nice."
So that very productive piece of business was out.
Lena was a true phenomenon.
Only three years old, dainty and petite as she was, she didn't sing like a girl. Not at
all. Her voice was more boyish than girlish. Like the blues singers who would later take
show business by storm. But Lena could also sing with the voice of a woman.
Mama's voice was the most powerful I ever heard; man or woman. Lena ran her a close
In the nineteen twenties after an unsuccessful marriage she made a new life for herself in
show biz. She resurrected the descriptive words Papa had used on those handbills years
before during the barnstorming jaunt through the gold camps of Colorado "The Little
Girl with the Big Voice" and under the stage name of Lee Morse she went on to become
one of the big stars of the twenties. She played the Pantages and Orpheum circuits, the
Palace in New York, The Palladium, in London and at one time in the late twenties she sold
more records than any of her contemporaries. During that time Mama spent a happy and
exciting month traveling with Lena proudly sharing her triumphs by joining in singing one
number with her, which generally turned into four or five. I never heard them, but God!
what a big sweet sound that must have been.
When Lena finished singing her song that night in Leadville and belted out that last note,
her listeners forgot for the moment that they supposed to be rough and tough he-men.
They applauded thunderously. They stood and applauded. They shouted and
whistled and stamped their feet and encored her repeatedly until Papa had to step out and
remind her cheering admirers that after all she was just a frail little girl.
The stage sparkled with coins. Not silver coins like those thrown to the boys and earlier
to her, but twenty dollar gold pieces.
$500.00 in all.
It had been planned that Lena's number would close the show but Papa had alerted the
family that they were all to sing a closing song.
To appease those "damn Yankees" who had sat on their hands after Dixie, the
performance was brought to a close with a double barreled offering. The entire family sang
"The Battle Hymn of the Republic" to assuage any hurt feelings among the
"Nawtheners" and then in order to help the Dixieites forget the "Battle
Hymn" they finished the program with "My Country 'Tis of Thee" to which no
loyal citizen, north or south, could object.
Now here is the switcheroo that caused me to characterize as a "scheme" Papa's,
up to this point, highly successful debut as a theatrical impresario.
As the curtain descended Papa stepped down to the footlights. It was plain that he had a
last word to say. The applause grew, and leveled off and as it finally diminished he
raised his hands to bring it to an end.
You'd never guess what Papa had to say.
He announced that the family would stay over for two more concerts, tomorrow night and the
following night and he asked his listeners to spread the good word. They responded with an
enthusiastic round of applause.
Papa then told the audience that there was an additional treat in store for them this
evening. They listened expectantly.
"I am a minister of the gospel," he said.
"Spreading the word of God is my life's work," he went on. "we present
these musical concerts only to defray expenses so I can preach the gospel and save
souls," he explained.
"For the benefit of those of you who care to remain for another hour, I am going to
preach a sermon. There will be no additional charge and there will be no collection. Thank
you." And he stood there to make it as difficult as possible for any sinners to
For a moment there was dead silence. Then there was a restless stirring and scuffling of
feet followed by mumbled words as they asked each other what the hell they intended to do.
One man arose from his seat and started up the aisle. Then another and another and then
the audience rose en masse and moved toward the exits. When the exodus was over there were
only a dozen or so remaining in their seats, scattered about the hall.
Mama had been looking out through the peek hole in the tormentor at the bleak and barren
scene. Now she stepped around to where Papa could see her, caught his attention and
motioned for him to come to her.
He walked over to her and she said, "Papa, there's nobody out there. Why don't you
just tell them to go on home?" Papa's face was flushed. He was embarrassed and
probably angry. This was the first time he had ever suffered the indignity of having an
audience walk out on him.
It was also, of course, the first time he had ever attempted to trick an audience into
having to listen to him preach.
"Ollie," he said sternly, "you are forgetting the parable of the lost
"But, Papa, I hate to see --- " Mama began but Papa raised his hand to silence
her. ''That will be all, Ollie," he admonished her --- and that WAS all.
Papa would put up with quite a bit of argument and even nagging from Mama, but when he
said "That will be all, Ollie" that ended the matter. Papa did have one more
thing to say, however. "Don't forget, Ollie" he reminded her, "that I
concocted this unholy scheme to try and make you happy." And that was the fact
of the matter. Mama was so religious that she couldn't bear the thought of Papa not
preaching. And while she would do most anything to see that her children were fed and
clothed, she felt that appearing on the stage was sinful and in order to mitigate this
transgression she had indeed asked Papa if there wasn't some way he could preach, either
before or after the concerts or in the morning or afternoon.
I am not convinced that Papa was entirely sold on the religion he preached but he enjoyed
public speaking no matter whether it was making a political speech, auctioneering, or
preaching, not to mention the drama of baptizing his converts. Particularly when it was
necessary to cut holes in the ice. And so I am rather convinced that he had not had to be
pushed too hard when he conceived the idea which had now backfired.
After chiding Mama he stalked back on stage and proceeded to preach.
If he had known what was in store for him he might have taken advantage of the out Mama
had offered him, the "lost lamb" notwithstanding.
As he began speaking in an effort to persuade the lonely dozen that they should
acknowledge God and be saved, the empty hall was filled with hollow echoes. Each word he
spoke was flung back in his face with overlapping sequences from each of the four walls as
if ghostly evil spirits were mocking his every utterance and inflection to confound him,
confuse him and punish him for his dishonest scheme.
But Papa was a man of considerable determination and so, with words already spoken
hammering at his senses, he managed to keep his thoughts in order and proceed. Despite the
difficult circumstances and the almost certain futility of expending so much effort trying
to save so pitiful a few, he persisted to the bitter end.
He made his usual eloquent and tearful appeal for the repentant to come forward.
That was the last attempt Papa made to preach until the gold fields and their
disinterested sin-soaked citizens were we behind him.
The second nights concert drew another full house. All went well until Lena came on stage.
She went through her plagiarized vamp routine. It went over, seemingly as well as the
previous night, but audiences being the obscure mystery they are, no one took the
initiative to throw that first dollar on stage to open the flood gates and the previous
nights outpouring of coins failed to materialize.
The piano player played the introduction to her song but Lena didn't sing. She just stood
there. The pianist vamped for a time but when Lena gave no indication that she had any
intention of singing he trailed off and there was silence. The audience waited and then
there was a low buzz of conjecture with the term "stage fright" becoming audible
to the anxious and puzzled family standing in the wings.
At length Papa went on stage, stooped down and softly inquired "What's the matter,
daughter?" Lena's answer was straightforward and to the point "I'm waiting
for the money," she said. Rather than argue with her, Papa stepped over to the wings
and told Ferris "She's waiting for them to throw money. Sneak down front and
throw a dollar on stage." Ferris being equally quick witted as Papa
unostentatiously scurried down the stairs at the side of the stage squatted low and tossed
the dollar. Lena, unable to see across the footlights, had no way of knowing that she was
being tricked. She picked up the bait, nodded to the piano player and sang.
The response was as enthusiastic as it had been the night before both in the way of
applause and yellow coins thrown on stage.
Ferris had recently come into possession of the sheet music of the tear jerker "Hello
Central, Give Me Heaven for My Mother's There."
Lena sang it for her encore.
Many, perhaps most of the men who largely composed this audience, knowing that a gold camp
was no place for women and children, had come here alone, to try and make a stake so they
and their families could enjoy a better life.
The tough front they put on was just an act to conform. When Lena sang that song her
listeners were overcome with loneliness and nostalgia and, as the old show business saying
puts it "There wasn't a dry eye in the house."
Tear stained bandanas, shirtsleeves and gnarled thumb knuckles were the furtive rule
rather then the exception.
The shower of gold was multiplied.
The family spent several weeks playing the mining camps and when they moved on they had
several thousand dollars which Papa wisely invested in a ranch near the town of La Grange,
The lean days were over and the future seemed bright. They had a fine big house, each of
the children had their own pony to ride and there were streams full of fish to be caught
and an abundance of wild game to be hunted.
The family was scarcely settled when word came that the railroad was coming though. That
would double the value of the ranch. High powered operators fanned out along the proposed
right-of-way making very attractive offers of contracts for grading the right-of-way.
This new opportunity promised to be profitable and many ranchers and business people
Papa was one of these.
The ranch, livestock and all, was mortgaged to obtain financing. Anyone familiar with the
history of how the railroads were built knows what happened. After the work had been done
the subcontractors were swindled out of their pay. The ranch was foreclosed. Papa and Mama
drove away from the ashes of their dreams with only a team and wagon.
To be sure, there were now only five young mouths to feed. Papa's four children by his
first marriage had made friends and decided to strike out on their own.
- Glen Hearst Taylor -