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Stories of Survival: Ada Blackjack




With all the uncertainty surrounding us today, it is good to hear about survival stories of men and women who beat the odds stacked against them. Today, let’s look into the story of Ada Blackjack.

Ada Blackjack | A True Survivor

In 1898 a baby girl was born in Spruce Creek, Alaska. She was brought up by Methodist missionaries and while she was an Inupiat, she was not brought up the way people of her culture were. She did not learn survival skills and did not hunt or fish. However, when Ada was pushed to her limits her heritage of survival in harsh environments took over and she became one of the greatest survivors in history.

Her story will blow your mind.

At just 16 years old, Ada married a local dog musher by the name of Jack, Jack Blackjack. Some of this reads like a movie, but it is all part of the story of this tough as nails woman who got the worst from life and just kept going.

The couple had three kids and two of them died. The sole survivor, Bennet, was just 5 years old when Jack deserted Ada and their son. This was a worst-case scenario for poor Ada, and she left the Seward Peninsula on a 40-mile walk with her 5-year-old son!

A Desperate Mother

A Desperate Mother | Stories of Survival Ada Blackjack

Bennet was stricken by tuberculosis and generally poor health. Unfortunately, she was so broke that she could provide little for the boy or herself. This was a time before welfare and single mothers were living through literal hell on earth.

She was forced to leave her child at an orphanage that was better equipped to care for him. Though, Ada swore to return and bring her child home once she had enough money to make that happen.

It is that kind of adversity that helps create a woman as brave as Ada Blackjack. Only these most desperate of circumstances would push her into a poorly planned, yearlong expedition to Wrangel Island. The conditions didn’t concern her, instead, she was most concerned with the pay. They were looking for a Native Alaskan seamstress, and they were paying $50 a month. This was far more than she could make at any job she had had till then.

An arctic explorer named Vilhjalmur Stefansson, who was made famous for his previous expeditions, assembled a team and created a venture that was doomed from the beginning. He was throwing a poorly prepared and under-experienced team onto Wrangel Island so they could claim it for the British Empire. Stefansson assured the team that the arctic was friendly and would provide them plenty of game meat.

A Doomed Venture

The mission was a yearlong venture, and the team would be picked up by ship after their time. Ada was as excited as she was nervous because the pay for this trip meant she could get Bennet back.

The arctic was surprisingly friendly and full of game meat as Stefansson promised in the first year. However, the winter season came hard and fast, pack ice closed in on the shipping lanes and the team never saw the Teddy Bear, the ship that was supposed to come and take them home.

Their meager food stores and poorly prepared resources brought on much concern and as the winter deepened and the weather worsened it was clear that this was going to be a life and death struggle. They were not prepared to survive the winter. Come January 1923, the party was starving to death and one of the team was terribly ill. His name was Lorne Knight.

The other three men headed off for rescue on the 28th day of January 1923. They never returned and were never found.

A Born Survivor

A Born Survivor | Stories of Survival Ada Blackjack

Lorne Knight and Ada Blackjack were all that was left of the party. She cared for Knight in his ill state for 6 months. The man was brutal and verbally abusive to her. While she cared for the man, fed him, and transformed into a survivor, he showed very little gratitude. She expressed her feelings in her diary.

“He never stop and think how much it’s hard for women to take four man’s place, to woodwork and to hunt for something to eat for him and do waiting to his bed and take the shiad [shit] out for him.”

It was during this time that Ada truly came into her own. She became a legitimate woodsman. She learned to hunt and trap and even keep the shelter safe from polar bears! It was the necessity and her loyalty to Lorne that forced her heritage to the surface. It was her pedigree and her willpower that transformed her into a woman of her people.

Lorne would die soon after leaving Ada alone to fend for herself. Most would assume that her story would have ended soon after Lorne’s. Who could live in the unrelenting arctic, filled with polar bears, with no stores and little hunting experience?

The Rescue

August 20, 1923, the Donaldson, a schooner, showed up to rescue Ada. She never mentioned if she expected rescue or not, but the comments of the crew formed the legacy of Ada Blackjack as a survivor and legitimate woodsman. They mentioned that she “mastered her environment” and would have been capable of surviving indefinitely if not for the lonesome of isolation. She trapped foxes, she shot birds and she even built a platform to spot polar bears from.

Following her rescue, she reunited with her son and had another son named Billy. In modern times a woman like Ada would have been tendered a book deal and lived happily for years to come. However, she was forgotten before long and her life was studded with sadness and poverty. Others got rich from her experience, but Ada stuck around just long enough to see her son die at 58 and she would die soon after.

What do you think of Ada Blackjack’s story of survival? We hope it has inspired you in one way or another. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section!

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