Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Ada Blackjack

A photograph of Ada Blackjack in heavy furs.In 1921 Ada Blackjack was hired as seamstress and cook for the ill-fated expedition to Wrangel Island.  The members of the expedition were handpicked by Vilhjalmur Stefansson in an attempt to establish a permanent settlement on the island and thus establish a claim for Canada.  Allan Crawford, Fred Maurer,  and Milton Galle disappeared in January, 1923 while trying to cross the Chukchi Sea to Siberia after the expedition's supplies ran out.  Lorne Knight died on the island - apparently from complications related to scurvy. Finally, after several months alone on Wrangel, Ada Blackjack was rescued in 1923 when another colonization company was landed on the island.  That attempt also failed and the island was eventually claimed by the Soviet Union.

A page of faint, handwritten text.
Diary for April 15 - 17, 1923
Starting in March, 1923, Ada kept a diary in which she recorded daily events on Wrangel.  An entry from April 15 reads "I was out the traps they was nothing and storming looking weather today.  And I got my boots soles already and soak them and knight said he feel bad." A later entry from June 22, 1923 reads "I move to the other tent today and I was my dishes and getting some wood."  On the surface a fairly normal entry, this was actually the day Ada found Knight dead in the tent that they had been sharing. A later narrative of the expedition by Ada reveals that Knight "died June 22, 1923, I found him dead the next morning after he saw me crying."

Though she was the lone survivor of the expedition, Ada Blackjack shunned publicity and tried to disappear from public view, emerging only to refute allegations that she had been responsible for Knight's death.  She died in 1983.

Ask for Stefansson Mss 8 to see Ada's diary, photos, and other material. A finding aid is available.  Additional material on the Wrangel expedition can be found in Stefansson's papers (Stefansson Mss 98 and Stefansson Mss 196), the papers of Harold Noice (Stefansson Mss 91) and the papers of Ingles Fletcher (Stefansson Mss 34).

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