Expanding a story …
The One who Survived: Ada Blackjack
Ada Blackjack – the Woman who Looked Adversity in the Eye and Won
In the days when large parts of the earth had not been explored, and sea faring was very fraught, four men and a woman set out on a voyage. The three men Frederick Maurer (28), E Lone Knight (28), Allan R Crawford (20), set out under the leadership of Stefansson to discover new lands and conquer them. The spirit of adventure and the lure of virgin islands drove them, where as the fourth member, a woman named Ada Blackjack (23) undertook the perilous journey to resuscitate
her ailing son battling T.B. What unfolded during the voyage is both saddening and heartening.
Ada was born in the year 1898. Curiously, she avoided going out to play with other children preferring to stay indoors to do household chores to help her grandma. The exuberance of a youngster was missing in her.
By 1921, Ada had married, and become a mother, but sadly had lost two of her babies. The five-year-old Bennett lay in bed, afflicted by TB. Woefully short of money, Ada could ill-afford good medical care for her sick son. She could do nothing but bemoan her fate.
At this point of time, entered Stifansson, the leader of the expedition. He made a proposal to Ada. Stifansson needed a help who would accompany the four young sailors aboard their ship. She had to do cooking, mending clothes and other such sundry work. Could she accompany the expedition, asked Stifansson. But, Ada had her leg tied to Bennett’s sick bed. She could never leave him to die. She was lost in thoughts.
Stifansson made an enticing offer. He would make arrangements for Bennett’s comprehensive medical care to turn him around till Ada returned.
Ada weighed the offer, and concluded that the medical care was vital for her sick son. She could bear the separation from her son for some time if it could ensure his recovery from TB. She would also get her remuneration. With mind engulfed in torment, she agreed to Stifansson’s offer to work as a cook and a seamstress for the Arctic expedition. Stiffanson was delighted.
On 21st September, the group set out for Wrangel Island. Initially, the other members of the group felt Ada was too frail to stand the cold hazardous journey, but Ada showed remarkable determination and resilience. They agreed.
Stifansson saw off the group assuring that the place they were heading to was awash with wild life. The young men could haunt them for the meat. Stifansson had six months ration loaded on the ship. Additionally, he assured that he would send another supply ship after six months to replenish the stock.
Their ship Silverwave left the port. Soon, on board the ship, Bennett’s memory began to haunt Ada. She consoled herself thinking that it was more important for Bennett to stay alive than her remaining close to him.
The expedition landed in the island. Unlike their earlier assumption, the island turned out to be a vast swathe of land, not a tiny patch. Ada made up her mind to stick to her assigned work – sewing and cooking. The young men decided to begin hunting from the next day.
It was 1922. Spring arrived. Life was rather easy for the members of the expedition. There were games aplenty for hunting. Seals, polar bears, ducks and geese provided plentiful of the much-needed meat for consumption in that desolate cold land. The crew decided to build a snow-house for shelter to keep warm.
Things started to take a turn for the worse. Lone Knight returned to the camp after swimming across the Skeleton River. The cold water and the exhaustion took their toll. Lone felt uneasy. Soon he was taken ill. No amount of care and nourishing could revive him. His condition went from bad to worse.
The members of the crew began to worry stock of essential items like sugar, coffee, bean and flour reached critically low levels. Lone showed no sign of recovery. His moral was low, as he felt he couldn’t pull it through. Ada was there with her words of comfort, but Lone had slipped past the threshold. Doom and despondency was in the air.
One of the crew members suggested that they could cross the icy Chukki Sea to reach the land where they could seek help for themselves and the beleaguered comrades left behind. In other words they mulled over the idea of expedient escape from the camp.
Lone’s condition deteriorated fast. Leaving him to the care of Ada, the three other crew members left the camp for their onward journey. The demure Ada could neither demur, nor vent her anxiety.
It was January 1923. Crawford, Malle and Gaurer headed for Siberia crossing the Chukki Sea. Ada did her best to instill some confidence in the ailing Lone, but his condition was too grim for her kind words to have any salutary effect. There was no food to eat. It was a desperate situation. Starvation loomed over the duo – one critically ill, the other, a frail woman with little skill to gather food in those hostile cold surroundings.
Ada pulled herself up and decided to go ahunting. Lone protested, but Ada said she would do it – anyhow. She managed to kill a few animals, and could fend off starvation. Tragedy befell again. Lone passed away, leaving Ada heart-broken, and alone. There was no trace of the three men. The ghoulish wilderness gnawed her relentlessly. But, she refused to capitulate. She thought of Bennett, and drew comfort from the fact that he must be recovering fast. She had a reason to stay alive. She kept the fire burning in her tent. Inside her, the fire of hope and energy remained aglow. Despair and despondency began to recede. She clung to her life and spirit.
On August 23, 1923, a merchant ship named Donaldson laid anchor in the shore. The sailors took good care of Ada, by then half-starved and battered by the cold. Her ordeal was finally over.
When she reached home, she was treated like a hero. She became the darling of the media who gave her front-page coverage. She was invited to gatherings to recount her struggle with the adversity and the elements. Felicitations flowed from all quarters.
Ada narrated her learning experience – how she studied maps, and how she hunted foxes with the help of traps. Her story became an inspiring saga of struggle and survival.
With her accumulated salary, she took her fit and fine son to Seattle to start life anew. She declared that the spirit of adventure was still alight in her. The indomitable Ada finally went to Arctic and made it her home.