On November 28, 1878, in Indianapolis, Indiana, Marshall Walter Taylor was born to Gilbert and Saphronia ( née Kelter) Taylor; he would be one of three sons among the family’s eight children. Upon migrating from Louisville, Kentucky, Gilbert, a veteran of the Civil War, and his wife settled in a small Indiana community, Bucktown, a rural area west of Indianapolis.
By the time, Marshall was eight years old, his father began to work as a coachman for the Southard family, who were White and wealthy. Typical of many African-American men and their sons, Gilbert would, on occasion, have Marshall accompany him so the young boy could gain experience and knowledge. After a short while, Marshall became close with Daniel Southard, as they were the same age. When offered the possibility of Marshall living with the Southard family, the Taylors agreed because it offered advantages that, due to racial discrimination, were beyond those that the Taylor parents could provide. Those advantages were educational, economic and social and Marshall lived with the Southards for four years. When the Southards moved to Chicago, Illinois, Marshall resumed living with his family in Indianapolis.
One of the advantages the Southard family offered Marshall was a bicycle. By the time Taylor was fourteen years old, he had mastered performing tricks on his bicycle and Tom Hay, owner of the Hay and Willits Bicycle Shop, hired him to perform stunts in front of his store. In addition to performing stunts, Taylor cleaned inside the shop, earning six dollars per week and a new, expensive bicycle. It is believed that because he wore a soldier’s uniform when he performed his stunts that he earned the moniker of “Major”.