|Died||May 29, 1983 (aged 85)|
Ada Blackjack Johnson was born in the remote settlement of Spruce Creek, eight miles from Solomon, Alaska. Ada's father died when she was eight years old, and her mother sent her and her sister to a Methodist mission school in Nome, Alaska. She was raised by missionaries who taught her to read English. She married at age 16 and had three children with her husband, only one of whom survived infancy. She obtained a divorce and moved back to Nome, where her mother was living, with her son Bennett. The divorce left Ada destitute, and she temporarily had to place Bennett in an orphanage, which could better care for his tuberculosis.
In 1921, she joined an Arctic expedition across the Chukchi Sea to Russia's Wrangel Island, led by Canadian explorer Allan Crawford but financed, planned and encouraged by Vilhjalmur Stefansson. She was recruited to the expedition to sew fur clothing for the team.
Stefansson sent five settlers (one European Canadian, three European Americans, and one Iñupiat, Blackjack) in a speculative attempt to claim the island for Canada. 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 other sciences for the expedition.
On 15 September 1921, the team was left on Wrangel Island north of Siberia, to claim the island for Canada or the United Kingdom. Blackjack 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. The team included five people: Blackjack, who had been hired as a cook and seamstress; the American men Lorne Knight, Milton Galle, and Fred Maurer; and Allan Crawford. Maurer had spent eight months on the island in 1914 after surviving the shipwreck of the Karluk.
The conditions on the island were adequate, but after a year turned for the worse. Rations ran out, and the team was unable to kill enough game on the island to survive. On 28 January 1923, three of the men finally attempted to cross the 90-mile frozen Chukchi Sea to Siberia for help and food, leaving Blackjack and the ailing Knight behind. Knight was afflicted with scurvy and was cared for by Ada until he died on June 23, 1923. The other three men were never seen again, and so Blackjack was alone, except for the expedition's cat, Victoria. Blackjack survived in the extremely cold conditions until she was rescued almost eight months later on 19 August 1923 by a former colleague of Stefansson's, Harold Noice. Some newspapers hailed her as the real "female Robinson Crusoe".
Blackjack used the money she saved to take her son to Seattle, Washington to cure his tuberculosis. She remarried and had another son, Billy. Eventually, she returned to the Arctic, where she lived until the age of 85.
Blackjack was a quiet person and hated the media circus that developed around her and the attempts by Stefansson and her rescuer Noice to exploit her story. Except for her expedition salary and a few hundred dollars she had earned for the furs she trapped on Wrangel, Blackjack did not benefit from her ordeal and received no compensation from the books that were written about her.
- Caravantes, Peggy (2016). Marooned in the Arctic. Chicago Review Press Incorporated. p. 1. ISBN 978-1-61373-098-0.
- Hulls, Tessa (6 December 2017). "Ada Blackjack, the Forgotten Sole Survivor of an Odd Arctic Expedition". Atlas Obscura. Retrieved 8 December 2017.
- Ada Blackjack: A True Story of Survival in the Arctic, by Jennifer Niven
- Niven, Jennifer (2003). Ada Blackjack: A True Story Of Survival In The Arctic. New York: Hyperion Books. p. 431. ISBN 0-7868-6863-5.
- "Woman Sole Survivor of Wrangle Island Party". The Tribune. 1923-09-26. p. 5. Retrieved 2021-08-10 – via Newspapers.com.
- Hulls, Tessa (2017-12-06). "Ada Blackjack, the Forgotten Sole Survivor of an Odd Arctic Expedition". Atlas Obscura. Retrieved 2019-11-05.
- Alexandra J. McClanahan, "The heroine of Wrangel Island", LitSite Alaska, University of Alaska Anchorage.
- Atlas Obscura: Ada Blackjack, the Forgotten Sole Survivor of an Odd Arctic Expedition
- Sonneborn, Liz (2007). A to Z of American Indian women (Rev. ed.). New York: Facts On File. ISBN 9780816066940.
- Healy, Luke (2016). How to Survive in the North. NoBrow. ISBN 9781910620069.
- Ada Blackjack papers at Dartmouth College Library