We take a moment to look at one our heroic namesakes and tell the chilly tale of the female Robinson Crusoe, one Ada Delutuk Blackjack.

Here at Blackjack Champ we appreciate those who try their luck, take the big risks, and then win through despite the odds. Winning at blackjack consistently might involve the leverage of small advantages over a long period of methodical, logical, play using skills developed as you gain experience at the the tables, but no one would deny that luck can play a part in any gamble, and some gambles require far more luck than others.

It is also true to say that the desperate may well be a tad more willing to gamble big than those with more to lose. Inuit woman Ada Delutuk Blackjack had nothing to lose, the only thing her abusive husband had abandoned her with was a son suffering from Tuberculosis and as mothers tend to she was determined to do anything necessary to get her child the help it needed. That help, of course, required money, and in Nome, Alaska, in the 1920s there were few opportunities to gain any.

Woman Spends Two Years On Barren Arctic Island

• Expedition goes horribly wrong due to inclement conditions

• Everyone except Ada and Vic the cat died

• Develops Ada Blackjack strategy for hunting

Having to place her son in an orphanage because she was unable to support him was perhaps the final straw and in 1921 she gambled hugely by accepting an offer by the notorious Arctic explorer and self-aggrandizement specialist Vilhjalmur Stefansson to join his new expedition as seamstress and cook. The expedition was to send four young well qualified men to the uninhabited, and nominally Russian, Wrangel Island in order to claim it for Canada, and she would go with them.

Canada, however, wanted nothing to do with it, perhaps because Stefansson’s previous expedition had ended under ignoble circumstances with conflicting tales of his abandoning the crew of a ship trapped in ice and half the team dying and the survivors eventually needing to be rescued from, of all places, Wrangel Island. He then decided to claim the island for Great Britain… who likewise wanted nothing to do with it. In face of this indifference Stefansson continued with the expedition to prove the Arctic could be habitable.

Barren And Hysterical

Left on an remote Arctic island with four men, no skills in survival (she could not even build an igloo) and no experience of living off the land, the 25 year old Ada Blackjack was facing a year of hardship and challenge. This wasn’t helped by some of their supplies being lost or spoiled, their sled dogs being perpetually fatigued, and the constant dropping of temperatures below minus 40. However in that September of 1921 they were all sure they could survive till the supply ship arrived the following summer.

Unfortunately the completely unprepared and inexperienced Ada Blackjack fell victim to Pibloktoq, or Arctic hysteria, leaving her an emotional wreck, refusing to do her allotted work, sobbing for hours on end, attempting to run away (with absolutely nowhere to go) and, perhaps most problematically for the expedition as a whole, developing an exceptionally enthusiastic love for another of the expedition, one Allan Crawford.

It is perhaps telling that the team then split into two camps 15 miles apart. Ostensibly to widen the range of their hunting possibilities, but mostly it was to keep Ada Blackjack away from Crawford. Not that it worked. Several times she walked the fifteen miles between camps and had to be dragged away or, on one occasion, tied to the flagpole to keep Crawford from her clutches. Eventually, just before Christmas, the team presented her with an ultimatum. Calm down, or sleep outside… where you’ll die of exposure.

Without survival skills but plenty of survival instinct, she calmed down, but that was by no means an end to the problems. That winter late in 1921 was bad and spring brought no relief, even worse, as they were running low on supplies, a summer blizzard in 1922 prevented the supply ship reaching them. One of the team, Lorne Knight, then set off on a trek alone, he forgot his tent, got lost, had to cross a freezing river and barely made it back alive, weakening his system enough that he developed scurvy.

Alone And Afraid

By September 1922 ice enclosed the entire island, rescue would not come, they faced another winter on Wrangel. So in January 1923, with Knight bedridden, the other three team members were to take advantage of the frozen ocean to walk to Siberia to gain rescue. There weren’t enough supplies left to sustain five people anyway and Ada Blackjack was left to tend to Knight. Crawford, Maurer and Galle set off but never reached Siberia, they were never heard of again.

Left to fend for herself and a bedridden terminally ill patient on a barren Arctic island, if she wanted to survive she was going to have to do it all herself, and this deadly situation facing Ada Blackjack signals a change in her behavior. She taught herself to hunt foxes with a knife because she didn’t like rifles and polar bears scared her, a fear she would eventually get over as times became more desperate. She overcame her fears, but had other issues to deal with.

Although she tended to Knight at all times he was less than grateful shouting abuse at her, blaming her for his condition, telling her that her husband and been right to beat her and that the two children she’d lost in infancy had died because of her inability to look after herself let alone anyone else. Perhaps this drove her to begin shooting polar bears from a platform she constructed above the tent in which they lived in abject misery.

In April 1923 Knight died and Ada was left alone on Wrangel with only the expedition cat, Vic, for company. She tried to develop smart strategies for hunting but was confounded by the shifting ice that constantly changed the geographic nature of the environment. Fortunately for Ada Blackjack, in August of 1923 she was rescued, having survived on Wrangel for two years. She used the money she’d earned to get her son’s illness treated and was hailed as the female Robinson Crusoe by the media which crucified Stefansson for getting more people killed.

We at Blackjack Champ appreciate this tale of our namesake’s survival, of her willingness to carry on in the face of insurmountable odds and terrible, terrible losses. She developed skills she hadn’t possessed and managed to survive in one of the most inhospitable places on the planet for twice as long as anyone could reasonably have expected her to, and displayed a courage that few of us could claim to be able to replicate. Ada Delutuk Blackjack, we salute you.