Ada Blackjack

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Ada Blackjack
Ada Blackjack, c. 1920
Ada Delutuk

DiedMay 29, 1983(1983-05-29) (aged 85)

Ada Blackjack (née Delutuk; 1898 – May 29, 1983) was an Iñupiat woman who lived for two years as a castaway on uninhabited Wrangel Island north of Siberia.


Ada Blackjack Johnson was born in Solomon, Alaska and raised by missionaries who taught her to read English.[1] Early in her life, Blackjack relocated to Nome, Alaska. She married and gave birth to three children with her first husband, but only one survived past infancy. She and the first husband divorced after that. The divorce[2] left her destitute, and she temporarily placed her son in an orphanage. Soon after, in 1921, she joined an expedition across the Chukchi Sea to Russia's Wrangel Island led by Canadian Allan Crawford but financed, planned and encouraged by Vilhjalmur Stefansson.


1921 Wrangel Island Expedition team

Stefansson sent five settlers (one Canadian, three Americans, and one Iñupiat, Ada) in a speculative attempt to claim the island for Canada.[3] The explorers were handpicked by Stefansson based upon their previous experience and academic credentials. Stefansson considered those with advanced knowledge in the fields of geography and science for this expedition.

On 15 September 1921, the team was left on Wrangel Island north of Siberia, to claim the island for Canada or Great Britain. Ada had many misgivings about joining the expedition, especially because she had been misled to believe she would be only one of many Alaska Native people to join the crew.[4] The team included five people: Ada who had been hired as a cook and seamstress;[5] the American men Lorne Knight, Milton Galle, and Fred Maurer; and Allan Crawford, a Canadian. Maurer had spent eight months in 1914 on the island after surviving the shipwreck of the Karluk.

The conditions soon turned bad for the team. After rations ran out, the team was unable to kill enough game on the island to survive. So, on 28 January 1923 three men tried to cross the 700-mile frozen Chukchi Sea to Siberia for help and food, leaving Ada and the ailing Lorne Knight behind. Knight was afflicted with the dietary deficiency scurvy and was cared for by Ada until he died on June 23, 1923. The other three men were never seen again, and so Ada was left alone except for the company of the expedition's cat, Vic.[6]

Ada used her traditional Iñupiat skills to survive in the extreme freezing conditions until she was rescued on 19 August 1923 by a former colleague of Stefansson's, Harold Noice. Some newspapers called her a real "female Robinson Crusoe". Ada used the money she saved to take her small son Bennett to Seattle to cure his tuberculosis. She remarried and had another son, Billy. Eventually, Ada returned to the Arctic where she lived until the age of 85.

Last years[edit]

She was quiet and hated the media circus that developed around her and the attempts by her rescuer Noice and Stefansson to exploit her story. Except for the salary that she made on the trip and a few hundred dollars for furs that she trapped while on Wrangel, Ada did not benefit from the subsequent publication of several very popular books and articles concerning this disastrous voyage.

Ada Blackjack died in the state retirement facility, the Pioneer Home in Palmer, Alaska, and was buried in Anchorage, Alaska.


  1. ^ Hulls, Tessa (6 December 2017). "Ada Blackjack, the Forgotten Sole Survivor of an Odd Arctic Expedition". Atlas Obscura. Retrieved 8 December 2017.
  2. ^ Ada Blackjack: A True Story of Survival in the Arctic, by Jennifer Niven
  3. ^ Niven, Jennifer (2003). Ada Blackjack: A True Story Of Survival In The Arctic. New York: Hyperion Books. p. 431. ISBN 0-7868-6863-5.
  4. ^ Hulls, Tessa (2017-12-06). "Ada Blackjack, the Forgotten Sole Survivor of an Odd Arctic Expedition". Atlas Obscura. Retrieved 2019-11-05.
  5. ^ Alexandra J. McClanahan, The heroine of Wrangel Island
  6. ^ Atlas Obscura: Ada Blackjack, the Forgotten Sole Survivor of an Odd Arctic Expedition

Further reading[edit]

  • Caravantes, Peggy (2016). Marooned in the Arctic : the true story of Ada Blackjack, the "female Robinson Crusoe". Chicago Review Press. ISBN 9781613730980.
  • Sonneborn, Liz (2007). A to Z of American Indian women (Rev. ed.). New York: Facts On File. ISBN 9780816066940.
  • McClanahan, Alexandra J. "The Heroine of Wrangel Island". LitSite Alaska. University of Alaska Anchorage. Retrieved 19 January 2019.
  • Healy, Luke. How to Survive in the North. NoBrow. ISBN 9781910620069.

External links[edit]