Ada Blackjack and her amazing story of solo survival in the Arctic

Ada Blackjack and her amazing story of solo survival in the Arctic

Categories: History | North America | Travel

In 1923, American society was shocked by the story of 23-year-old Eskimo girl Ada Blackjack. She was the only woman on the polar expedition and, ultimately, the only surviving member. Ada was pushed into a dangerous undertaking by extreme need and love for her son. But the brave polar explorer had no idea what she would have to endure in the icy desert.

Ada Blackjack and her amazing story of solo survival in the Arctic

From early childhood, the Eskimos of Alaska travel through their harsh land and smile in the face of trials that are fatal to strangers. Ada Delituk, apart from her ancestors, had nothing in common with these people. She was born in 1898 in the small town of Spruce Creek, into an Eskimo family. But she grew up at a Christian mission, where she was taught English and the Bible. Ada didn’t know how to build an igloo, or hunt, or drive a dog sled.

Ada Blackjack and her amazing story of solo survival in the Arctic

At age 16, Ada married a dog driver named Jack Blackjack. They left the north and settled in Pennsylvania, where they lived for 7 years. The woman gave birth to three children, but only one survived - son Bennett. Ada's husband drank and beat her, and in 1921 he abandoned the family. Due to extreme need, a single mother and child were forced to return to Alaska, to the city of Nome.

At the age of 4, Bennett fell ill with tuberculosis, but Ada did not have money for his treatment. She gave her son to a shelter, where he was provided with the necessary care. The mother promised her son that she would definitely earn money and take him. The woman was able to get a job on an expedition heading to Wrangel Island to found a colony there.

The expedition was led by Canadian explorer, ethnographer and writer Vilhjalmur Stefansson. Four young and unexperienced polar explorers set off on a dangerous journey: Allan Crawford, Milton Galle, Fred Maurer and Lorne Knight. Ada Blackjack, an Eskimo only 150 cm tall, became the only woman in this company.

Ada Blackjack and her amazing story of solo survival in the Arctic

The researchers deceived Ada, saying that other Eskimos would go to the island besides her. Only at the last moment the woman was informed that they allegedly refused. Vilhjalmur Stefansson promised that along the way they would visit several villages and recruit a team of local residents, among whom Blackjack would be one of them.

But the little Eskimo was determined in any case, because she so wanted to live next to her son. Travel would solve her financial problems. Stefansson promised to pay Ada a huge amount of money for those times - $50 a month. On September 9, 1921, Ada with a company of four men and a cat (the head of the expedition chose to stay on the mainland) went to sea on the ship Silver Wave.

Ada Blackjack and her amazing story of solo survival in the Arctic

Already on September 16, the company landed on Wrangel Island. Stefansson was confident that the expedition members would not disappear. The island was full of game, and the colonists took with them an entire arsenal of small arms. The expedition was supposed to return to Alaska in two years, having completed a series of studies and set up a camp for the next batch of colonists.

The first year passed quietly. Men made maps, studied the climate, and hunted. Ada remained in the tent city, where she cooked food and sewed clothes. Everything was fine until the short polar summer ended. Hunters returned less and less often with prey and food became scarce. The inhabitants of the island were waiting for a ship from the mainland that would bring them supplies for the winter. But due to thick ice, he was unable to get through to Wrangel Island.

Ada Blackjack and her amazing story of solo survival in the Arctic

In late autumn, Knight and Crawford set off across the ice to the shores of Siberia. They planned to bring help or at least get provisions. But they soon had to return, as Knight became seriously ill. He was left in the camp, and the three of them decided to make a second attempt - Maurer and Halle joined Crawford.

On February 28, a detachment of three people left the island and headed towards the mainland. Ada remained to care for Knight, who was getting worse every day. The woman did not see anyone else who went for help. They disappeared without a trace among the ice.

Knight, who had either scurvy or kidney disease, did not get up. All worries fell on the fragile shoulders of the Eskimo. She became a nurse, nurse, cook and maid for the patient. She chopped wood herself, and when the last food supplies ran out, she also became a hunter. Ada cared for Knight for 6 months, but he was an extremely ungrateful patient.

Ada Blackjack and her amazing story of solo survival in the Arctic

From morning to night the patient only criticized and insulted the woman. Ada endured it without complaint and only wrote about her misfortune in her diary:

By the early summer of 1923, Knight became so ill that he could no longer speak. On June 23, the man died and Ada Blackjack was left alone on the island. She did not have the strength to bury the dead man. She put the body in a sleeping bag, dragged it out of the tent and covered it with stones so that animals and birds could not get to it.

Ada Blackjack and her amazing story of solo survival in the Arctic

The woman strengthened and insulated the tent in which there was a warehouse and moved to live there. There were many polar bears on the wreck, so she had to sleep with a weapon in her hands. Hunting was especially dangerous for Ada. One day she decided to kill a seal, but she almost became dinner for a mother bear and her cub.

Ada Blackjack and her amazing story of solo survival in the Arctic

In just three months, Ada Blackjack learned to shoot, set traps for game, and even use a camera. On August 20, 1923, the schooner Donaldson moored to Wrangel Island. Her crew was surprised to see that there was only one woman living in the camp. They were no less amazed by how Ada arranged her life. According to many, if help had not come, she would have been able to live on the island for at least another year.

Returning to Nome, Ada became a real heroine. Journalists and photographers came to see her, and in the press she was called nothing less than “the new Robinson Crusoe.” But the heroine did not suffer from star fever. She innocently told everyone that she only wanted to earn money in order to be close to her son.

Ada Blackjack and her amazing story of solo survival in the Arctic

For her adventures on Ada Island, she received significantly less money than she was promised. But this was still enough to take my son from the orphanage. Soon she married again and gave birth to a second son, Billy Johnson. But the second marriage quickly fell apart. The further life of the brave Eskimo woman was spent in poverty and hopelessness.

The only person who benefited from the failed expedition was Vilhjalmur Stefansson. He managed to benefit from the tragedy and became famous. Some time passed, and Ada Blackjack ceased to be admired. There were people who even blamed her for Knight's death.

Lifeguard Harold Noyce said the woman was negligent in her duties and the man died due to lack of proper care. Journalists, who had recently praised the brave Ada, burst out with accusatory articles against her. Interestingly, Knight’s relatives did not participate in this persecution - they always considered Blackjack a real heroine.

Ada Blackjack and her amazing story of solo survival in the Arctic

Ada lived to the age of 85 and died in Palmer, Alaska. Her son from her second marriage, who always admired her mother’s feat, installed a bronze plate on her grave with the inscription: “Heroine of the expedition to Wrangel Island.”

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