Wenonah

Martha_Learn

Martha “Wenonah” Learn — Vaudeville performer, San Antonio business woman, and treasure hunter.  She knew Harry Houdini.  For a few years she performed a rattle snake dance on the stage.  Spent the last 13 years of her life living in a shack near the mine site.  She, one of the most interesting women that Texas ever produced, is buried in an unmarked grave in the Menard cemetery.  The Menard museum (open Saturday afternoons) has some of her artifacts.

wenonah

She was featured in a book by Gene Fowler, Mavericks A Gallery of Texas Characters. That book seems to have focused exclusively on her vaudeville snake act.  The source of Mr. Fowler’s information was apparently drawn from the notes of a San Antonio photographer who took some publicity photographs of her.  He seems to have confused her name with that of her daughter. Wenonah’s stage career only lasted a few years and was but a small part of her fascinating life.

3 thoughts on “Wenonah

  1. Hi David, I am fascinated to learn more about Martha’s real story. I got the name Leona from the notes for Martha’s photograph by W. D. Smithers at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at UT Austin and a couple other sources. I look forward to seeing your book this December. Thanks for setting the record straight! I’m hoping to write about Menard in a magazine article and help publicize your book that way.

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    1. Gene, Good to hear from you. If you send me a note at dcrl@protonmail.com, I would be happy to give you some contacts in Menard who might be handy in researching an article about that town. There is at least one lady in Menard who remembers Martha Learn when she was living there.

      She had one child, a daughter named Zona (named after the writer Zona Gale, who was a relative by marriage). Possibly the photographer got the names (Zona and Leona) confused? I am assuming (never a safe thing) that the photographer may have annotated the photos years later?

      The photo of her in your book was used in advertisements for Martha’s vaudeville show back east that she put on before WWI. I have some clippings from newspaper advertisements in the mid-Atlantic area that used the photo. She did well with the show, and one of her fellow vaudeville performers, Harry Houdini, wrote a paragraph about her in one of his books.

      Although Martha had made a good deal of money through her life, she was penniless when she died in 1943 and she is in an unmarked grave in the “new” city cemetery. It is known which plot she is in, but no marker. Some locals were going to do something about it a few years ago, then one of the people in charge passed away–that seems to be a common theme, the older people who know some of the history are passing on.

      A person who could devote time to do some more research could write a small book about her life. She is an incredibly interesting person. I am glad that she was in your book in any capacity–she ought to be well known.

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