Ada Delutuk Blackjack

Source: Inglis Fletcher Papers, East Carolina Manuscript Collection #21

Ada Blackjack and her son.

Ada Blackjack and her son.

Staff Person: Martha Elmore

Ada Delutuk was an Eskimo born in Alaska in 1898 who was raised from the age of about ten by missionaries in Nome. By 1921 she was divorced from Jack Blackjack and had temporarily placed her sick child Bennett in an orphanage while she tried to earn a living as a seamstress. At this same time, Vilhjalmur Stefansson was putting together an arctic expedition to Wrangel Island which was located 200 miles northeast of Siberia and 400 miles northwest of Alaska. Ada Blackjack and several Eskimo families were recruited to help the four members of the expedition: Allan Crawford, Lorne Knight, Fred Maurer, and Milton Galle. When it came time for the ship Silver Wave to depart on September 9, 1921, Ada Blackjack was the only Eskimo who showed up to accompany the expedition. Despite misgivings, she sailed with the four men.

On September 16, 1921, the expedition arrived at Wrangel Island claiming it for Great Britain and the ship departed, leaving them on their own for a year. On August 20, 1922, the ship Teddy Bear left Nome to retrieve the five people and to leave new colonists on Wrangel Island, but the ice pack was unusually thick and they were forced to turn back. Meanwhile the expedition eventually realized that a relief ship wasn’t coming and because game was not as plentiful during the second year, three of the men decided to attempt to cross the ice to Nome via Siberia. They left behind Knight, because he had scurvy, and Ada. Eventually Stefansson was able to find financial support to send another relief ship and they found Ada on August 20, 1923. Knight had died on June 23, 1923, and no sign was ever found of the other three men.

A newspaper clipping (Feb. 27, 1924) showing a photograph of Ada Blackjack and her son, and an excerpt from her Feb. 6, 1924, statement to U.S. Marshal E. R. Jordan, Nome’s chief of police, concerning the expedition can be found in the Inglis Fletcher Papers #21 (finding aid at Manuscript Collection 21). Inglis was a good friend of Stefansson and she befriended Ada in February 1924 and accompanied her on a trip to California from Seattle.

Excerpt from statement of Ada Blackjack to U.S. marshal E. R. Jordan.

Excerpt from statement of Ada Blackjack to U.S. marshal E. R. Jordan.

Click on the images to see enlarged versions.

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