Ada Blackjack, the Forgotten Sole Survivor of an Odd Arctic Expedition

Ada Blackjack was an Alaskan Inupiat woman who signed on for a year working as a seamstress for an expedition to Wrangel Island, in the Arctic Ocean near Siberia. She was the sole woman in the 1921 expedition that included four men and a cat named Vic.

The expedition, organized by the charismatic Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson, was at best an ill-conceived venture; at worst, it was a willfully negligent act of astonishing hubris. Using the pull of his celebrity as a seasoned explorer, Stefansson assembled a team of four starstruck young men—Allan Crawford, 20, Lorne Knight, 28, Fred Maurer, 28, and Milton Galle, 19—to claim Wrangel Island for the British Empire—even though Britain had never shown the slightest interest in wanting it. Though Stefansson picked the team and funded the mission, he never had any intention of joining the party himself and sent his woefully inexperienced team north with only six months of supplies and hollow assurances that “the friendly Arctic” would provide ample game to augment their stores until a ship picked them up the following year.

That's not what happened. Two years later, when a rescue ship finally arrived, Blackjack and Vic were the only survivors of the expedition. She didn't know how to shoot or trap when she went to Wrangel Island, but she taught herself because she was determined to return to her young son. And she had kept a diary of her experiences. Read the story of Ada Blackjack at Atlas Obscura.

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