The famous Old West entertainer, Lotta Crabtree

Lotta Crabtree was one of the most sought after entertainers in the Old West. Prospectors, settlers, politicians, and businessmen braved the elements to wait in long lines to purchase a ticket to see the talented actress and dancer perform. Lotta’s mother, Mary Ann, managed her career and finances from an early age and helped make her not only the most famous Gold Rush thespian, but one of the most wealthy.
Mary Ann’s duties as agent and promoter often spilled over into Lotta’s personal life. Suitors who might have fallen in love with the gifted performer were discouraged from entering into a relationship with her. Mary Ann believed her prime objective was to protect her daughter’s long term interests on the stage. Under her mother’s watchful eye Lotta was hustled directly to performances and home again. A supporting player in one of the stage plays Lotta performed in said she was “guarded like an odalisque in a harem.” Most people referred to the cheerful Lotta as “Miss Lotta, the Unapproachable.” Once, toward evening in the summer, a young man with a horse and carriage called to take her riding. Mary Ann sent him away quickly, but for days afterwards, following dinner, Lotta contrived to sweep the front porch in case he should return. Unhappily, he did not.
Lotta Crabtree died of arteriosclerosis in 1924 at the age of seventy-seven. She left the sizeable estate her mother helped her secure to veterans, animals, students of music and agriculture, needy children at Christmas time, and needy actors. She was buried next to her mother in Woodlawn Cemetery in New York City. Regardless of the men who hoped to persuade Lotta to fall in love with them and spend the rest of their life in her company, she never married.
And now, a few love lessons learned by Lotta Crabtree:

  1. If your mother is your theatrical manager, make sure her managerial duties do not extend into your personal life.
  2. Take time away from work and from family. Lotta worked constantly from the time she turned six-years-old until she retired at the age of thirty-eight. Any vacation was spent with her mother, brothers, or both. Any hope a potential suitor might have had for a romantic moment with Lotta was dashed by the ever present Crabtrees.
  3. Attend more parties hosted by Jack Crabtree. The parties Lotta’s brother hosted were a favorite with Broadway celebrities, musicians, and champion athletes. The chances of meeting someone special without Mary Ann looking on were good.
  4. Give yourself an allowance to spend any way you like. Mary Ann was instrumental in making sure Lotta’s earnings were wisely invested, but the scrutiny she had over the funds limited Lotta’s fun.
  5. Your love life will suffer when you put your career and your mother first.

Chris Enss is the COWGIRL Book Editor, and a New York Times Bestselling author who writes about women of the Old West. For more stories about these wild women, visit for more information on her books.