Ada Blackjack was barely five feet tall and 100 pounds and lacked any wilderness skills. Left alone in the arctic, she survived by teaching herself to hunt and trap, pick roots, haul wood, make her own clothing, and avoid hungry polar bears.
Except for the polar bears, a corpse, and a small house cat named Vic, Ada Blackjack found herself alone on Wrangel Island in late June 1923. Nearly two years had passed since a schooner dropped her off with four young white explorers who intended to claim the Arctic isle for the British.
Blackjack, a petite 23-year-old Inupiaq woman, had come along as a seamstress. Her job was to sew foul-weather clothing out of animal hides so the men could survive the northern winters. The team was planning to live off six months’ worth of supplies and local game before being relieved a year later with a new crew. But when a ship didn’t show up as promised in the summer of 1922, the expedition turned desperate. Three men went for help by dogsled over the ocean ice, some 100 miles south to Siberia, leaving Blackjack on her own to care for the remaining expedition member, Lorne Knight, who was bedridden with scurvy.