Lee's First Professional Appearance

Age 3, Leadville, Colorado -circa 1900

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.

                          OREGON TRIP

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 show."

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 gambling.

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 pokes permitted.

"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 family fortune."

He invested a goodly share of the family's remaining dollars in some handbills.


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 -

              "YOU 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 block letters.

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 attract attention.

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.

        Olive Taylor

        Best known for her rendition of "Juanita".

        and other old time and popular ballads.

        The Taylor Brothers - Ferris, Slade, Quintus

        and E.K. popularly known as The Taylor Male         Quartette.

        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         singer.

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 Slade.

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 appreciatively.

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 second.

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 leave.

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 lamb."

"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.

None did.

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, Oregon.

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 signed up.

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 -


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*Based on known facts, the date of the Taylor family migration to Oregon provided by the author is, apparently, erroneous. Federal census records verify that Lee was born in Oregon in 1897 (11.30.1897). Therefore, the trip to Colorado mentioned in the above account must have occurred subsequent to the family's initial arrival in Oregon.