Read Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier by Tom Kizzia Online


Into the Wild meets Helter Skelter in this riveting true story of a modern-day homesteading family in the deepest reaches of the Alaskan wilderness – and of the chilling secrets of its maniacal, spellbinding patriarch.When Papa Pilgrim appeared in the Alaska frontier outpost of McCarthy with his wife and fifteen children in tow, his new neighbors had little idea of the troInto the Wild meets Helter Skelter in this riveting true story of a modern-day homesteading family in the deepest reaches of the Alaskan wilderness – and of the chilling secrets of its maniacal, spellbinding patriarch.When Papa Pilgrim appeared in the Alaska frontier outpost of McCarthy with his wife and fifteen children in tow, his new neighbors had little idea of the trouble to come. The Pilgrim Family presented themselves as a shining example of the homespun Christian ideal, with their proud piety and beautiful old-timey music, but their true story ran dark and deep. Within weeks, Papa had bulldozed a road through the mountains to the new family home at an abandoned copper mine, sparking a tense confrontation with the National Park Service and forcing his ghost town neighbors to take sides in an ever-more volatile battle over where a citizen’s rights end and the government’s power begins. In Pilgrim’s Wilderness, veteran Alaska journalist Tom Kizzia unfolds the remarkable, at times harrowing, story of a charismatic spinner of American myths who was not what he seemed, the townspeople caught in his thrall, and the family he brought to the brink of ruin. As Kizzia discovered, Papa Pilgrim was in fact the son of a rich Texas family with ties to Hoover’s FBI and strange, oblique connections to the Kennedy assassination and the movie stars of Easy Rider. And as his fight with the government in Alaska grew more intense, the turmoil in his brood made it increasingly difficult to tell whether his children were messianic followers or hostages in desperate need of rescue. In this powerful piece of Americana, written with uncommon grace and high drama, Kizzia uses his unparalleled access to capture an era-defining clash between environmentalists and pioneers ignited by a mesmerizing sociopath who held a town and a family captive...

Title : Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 18281413
Format Type : Kindle Edition
Number of Pages : 336 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier Reviews

  • Caitlin
    2018-12-09 19:15

    Long time Alaska journalist Tom Kizzia is the only person who could have written this in-depth, heart-wrenching book. His years of involvement with the Pilgrim family as a reporter and intimate knowledge of the wilderness community of McCarthy allow him to tell their incredible story without sensationalizing it. Instead, Kizzia brings together the many strands of the Pilgrims' story -- almost unbelievable, but for the fact that they are true -- and recounts their tale with clarity, compassion, and a journalist's keen eye for verifiable detail.Pilgrim's Wilderness is the best kind of nonfiction writing. It is lyrical, captivating, and provides an in-depth portrait of a family far removed from mainstream life, and a small remote community that few people will ever visit. This is a must-read for anyone interested in Alaska, in family life, in extremist religion, in cults, in back-to-the-land movements, in the vast project of protecting American wilderness through the National Parks Service, in small-town life, in media spin, and in just plain good writing. To be concise -- almost everyone will find something to appreciate about this fascinating book.

  • Melki
    2018-11-26 21:25

    With God's direction, he had raised up his children on horseback in New Mexico mountains named for the Blood of Christ. There were fifteen of them, he said. Pilgrim was a trained midwife and had delivered each child at home. They had never seen a television or experienced the temptations of the world. They were schooled at home, tended flocks of sheep in alpine meadows, made their own buckskin, and lived pretty much as their forebears did a century ago, innocent and capable and strong, spinning wool, making lye soap and each night singing songs of praise.I finished this book less than an hour ago and I'm not sure whether to let my fury die down a bit or just let her rip. This is not a pretty book. This is not a fun book. If you read it, it will angry up your blood. Ah, what the hell . . . R-I-P!!!To some, Bob Hale was "colorful and harmless." Others referred to him as a "holy terror." Unfortunately for everyone who loved him, he was the latter. He took the words of the Bible quite literally, though thought nothing of "interpreting" scripture to his own benefit. He railed against government interference, though had no qualms about accepting "the food stamps that helped sustain the pioneer dream." And God's "Thou Shalt Not Steal" directive was apparently only a suggestion to Holy Bob. According to one neighbor:"That family would steal from your freezer or your shed, a little at a time so you wouldn't notice. A bridle. A shovel. If you had chickens, you didn't have eggs in the morning. They would steal the horses that were pregnant and send the animal back down the mountain without the colt. Every time you caught him red-handed, it was the Lord this, the Lord that."Not surprisingly, he quickly wore out his welcome in the American Southwest. Hale renamed himself "Papa Pilgrim" and moved his huge family to a remote area of Alaska where he promptly started a war with the National Park Service. Rangers conducting an investigation into Papa's illegal bulldozing of park lands were followed by a squad of silent, staring and heavily armed Pilgrim teenagers. Lawsuits quickly followed and Pilgrim managed to steal the sympathies of local residents with his David vs Goliath routine.Oh, but if they only knew what really went on behind cabin doors . . .For all his claims that the children were home schooled, the family only possessed two books - The Holy Bible and The Pilgrim's Progress. The majority of his kids were illiterate. Even worse, the children were expected to listen quietly to Papa and not ask questions . . . or else!If the children strayed, Papa was near to guide them back with a loving correction. This was the duty of a father.Here's where it gets just plain sick . . . All the children had known bruises and welts, bloody noses, and swollen lips inflicted in front of the others. There had been a few broken bone.Pissed off yet?(view spoiler)[When his oldest daughter turned eighteen, Papa, citing biblical precedent, began having sexual relations with her. (hide spoiler)]Feel like beating Papa with a tire iron yet? I really, really wanted to!His children may have forgiven him, but I sure as hell haven't. And speaking of Hell, let's hope there's a special, incredibly horrific place set aside for those who twist the teachings of their God to suit their own perverted purposes.Whew! Oddly enough, I don't feel any better at having gotten that out of my system.I need cupcakes - STAT!

  • Kenny Smith
    2018-11-18 20:32

    Great book! I ordered it way back, from Random House, when I received a notice that it would be coming out in a couple of months. When I received my copy and started reading, it kept me up until 2:30AM one night. Actually, I have a cabin in McCarthy and spend my summers there. We live in Anchorage but I have a long history with Kennecott and McCarthy, being almost born there. I knew Pilgrim but didn't really care for him so I stayed away, primarily due his manipulative nature with scripture. I did however, interact with two of the boys on a number of occasions and did like them. Having said that, it caught me by surprise when the incest and brutality revelations surfaced.I believe that nobody could have written a better book on this human debacle than Kizzia. He has some experience in the area and was one who had more objective interface with them than anyone else. He did an excellent job using exhaustive research. This is a sordid bit of Alaska history that should not be ignored, Alaskans should read it.In it I found a lot of stuff I didn't know about the Pilgrim story and where Kizzia related events that had occurred, which I was familiar with based on other sources, I found his version to be consistent. I do disagree with him in a number of areas though:1. In his intensity to be unbiased with respect to ideological opinion of both the proponents and opponents involved in the Pilgrim chronicle I believe he did not give the National Park Service role a fair assessment. Being in neither camp myself I look back on the events before Pilgrim's fall from grace and demise and agonize over the vindictive and vitriolic treatment some of the NPS personnel received from the three principal government hating benefactors of the Pilgrim incursion into the nations largest national park. True, the park service could have handled things differently on more than one occasion but one has to recognize that initially they were under extreme pressure and being tormented by demagogues who slandered them, using falsehoods and blatant lies did not make their job easier. I believe Kizzia should have indicated that these proponents of the Pilgrim indiscretions at least owe partial apology to a few of the public servants they so cheerily denigrated at the time.2. Kizzia was correct in painting a picture of the area's historicity and environment in order to make it easier for the lay reader to understand the story. In some areas though his history leaves much to be desired. I realize it is virtually impossible to get pertinent historical facts down with 100% accuracy, however, Kizzia runs into a pet peeve of mine. Shortly after the turn of the century the Alaska Syndicate was created by financiers comprised mainly of the JP Morgan Bank and the Guggenheim mining interests in order to develop the copper ore discoveries in Alaska next to the Kennicott Glacier. In order to accomplish this, three corporations were established. The primary one being the Kennecott Copper Corporation. The misspelling occurred back then either as a mistake or a deliberate action. Whatever, Kennecott became the name of the world's largest copper producing company. At no time was there a town or community named Kennicott. The corporation established its Alaska headquarter community alongside the Kennicott Glacier and located its processing facilities there and it was called "Kennecott". One can look at numerous newspapers, dating all the way back to the early years of the 20th century and find hundreds of articles and accounts referencing "Kennecott". No where can I find a spelling "Kennicott" unless it be a reference to the glacier or the river. That is, until about 1971 when the environmental studies office of the University of California developed an "Environmental plan for the Wrangell Mountains" wherein they gave reference to the "Townsite of Kennicott" i.e. pages 20 & 56. Now, it is understandable that environmental purists resent the one time introduction of heavy mining industry into such a beautiful pristine mountain wilderness area, but attempt to rewrite history is not professional nor does it give credibility to such studies. To this day, even the contemporary museum at McCarthy gets caught up in this renaming effort by referencing the "Kennicott Townsite" in its by-laws. Nevertheless, Kizzia, intentionally or otherwise, also gets hooked and says this on page 12: "Some of the old buildings at Kennicott were in private hands, but the park Service had started buying up the properties and calling everything "Kennecott," with an "e." Local people had always spelled it with an "i," Nothing could be farther from the truth. 3. Most of us were not aware of Pilgrim's real name, Robert Hale, and that he had been directly involved in Governor John Connally's pregnant daughter, Kathleen's, death until the Washington Post came out with a very revealing article regarding Robert and his famous football player father. It is my understanding that Kizzia may have been the first to discover this relationship and passed it on to the Post reporter who also went up to the Pilgrim's Marvelous Millsite. Unfortunately, Kizzia's Anchorage Daily News must have not seen fit to run with the story until the Post beat them to the punch. Nevertheless, one should give credit where credit is due. Unless I missed something here, Tom did not do that.

  • Bonnie Brody
    2018-11-15 00:19

    Alaska tends to attract eccentric people. It's a frontier and there are communities that are actually the end of the road. To go further, one must traverse rivers, streams, mountains and brush - all without roads or regular access. It happened in 2002 that a man calling himself Papa Pilgrim arrived in McCarthy, Alaska with his wife and thirteen children. McCarthy, a very small community in the summer and a nearly empty community in the winter is, indeed, the end of the road and the entrance to the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the largest national park in the United States.Papa Pilgrim, once known in Texas as Robert Hale, had a sketchy background. He was married once to a woman named Kathleen who died with a shotgun blast to the back of her head. The gun had no fingerprints on it and Robert was let go with the death deemed accidental. Kathleen was pregnant at the time of her death. Robert married two more times and fathered four children before he met 16 year-old Kurana Rose who he married when he was 33. By this time he had found religion and was a bible thumping Christian who interpreted the scriptures in his own profoundly arrogant way. He traveled to New Mexico but ran into troubles with his neighbors and the law there. He ended up in Alaska finding Fairbanks and Anchorage too urban and big, and running into trouble in both places.When he arrived in McCarthy with his then 13 children, he ended up bulldozing a road into the National Park. A long and contentious legal battle ensued with the park because he was said not to have gotten the correct licenses to clear the land. He settled in a remote area of the park near an abandoned copper mine that he called the Mother Lode. His family lived in a one-room cabin that was so small that the only way they could sleep at night was to line up in sleeping bags on the floor. By the time he reached McCarthy, he was known as Papa Pilgrim and his wife was called Country Rose. The older children, who once had hippie names, were renamed biblically. While in Hillbilly Heaven, three more children were born.On the outside, things looked idyllic with the Pilgrim clan but some people were suspicious. McCarthy was divided about whether they liked or disliked this family and whether they sided with the National Park Service or with the Pilgrims. However, it didn't take long to realize that all was not as it seemed with the Pilgrim family. Though they played music beautifully, all self-taught, the children could not read, they were being physically and sexually abused, and domestic violence was predominant in the household, all perpetrated by Papa Pilgrim.This book is derived from a series of articles published by Tom Kizzia in an Anchorage newspaper. He has done further investigation to make these articles into a book and it is a page-turner of the best sort. It is fascinating and frightening but it is hard to stop reading it. Most importantly, it is all true. If you like books like Helter Skelter or other true crime novels; if you like reading outdoor adventure stories; then this book is for you. There is not a boring page to be found.I must add one caveat. I lived in Fairbanks for 44 years and have visited McCarthy where my husband has served as artist in residence for the last two years. He will be there this summer as well. He travels deep into the Wrangell-St Elias mountains to paint and spends a lot of time in the town as well. I know some of the characters in the book and it made it all that more real for me. Kizzia captures the town of McCarthy and its people very well.

  • Becky
    2018-12-03 00:33

    I confess, I'm a sucker for stories about crazy people, religious nuts, large families, and counter-cultural experiments gone bad. Also, the villain of this tale (Papa Pilgrim) began life in a prominent family in my hometown, which always makes things interesting. The story is compelling and the writing and research seems good. There's a bit of a cautionary tale here about using real people as symbols for some political cause; people are generally messier than we want to make them with our pat explanations and tidy tales. In this case, though, media attention on the Pilgrim family helped them out of a scary and dangerous situation. It makes me wonder about people who claim that some specific level of social organization is suspect or dispensable; whether their proposed bad guy is government, church, school, a club, the neighborhood, or family. It seems to me that each provides checks and balances to the others. When family fails someone, school may help; if school fails, maybe a club can help; if church fails us, maybe law enforcement can help, etc. Sure, some people aren't joiners; whatever. But isolating one's kids? Bad sign.

  • Heather Fineisen
    2018-11-17 22:31

    "Maybe we are brainwashed. How would we know?"What is Pilgrim's Wilderness? A true crime. A memoir. An adventure. An Alaskan History. Environmental thriller. Love Story. Cult nightmare. I could go on. It is hard to describe a book that takes a bible-spouting father calling himself 'Pilgrim' with an almost Forrest Gump-like brush with historical figures from John F. Kennedy to Sarah Palin as he and his family of followers live off the land in the great state of Alaska. This is not a predictable story. This is not a boring story. It is all over the place with crazy connections that mirror our own country's struggling ethics through history while telling the story of one man and author Tom Kizzia brings it all together with his own personal twist. Surprising and disturbing, you will not be disappointed. provided by publisher

  • Scott
    2018-11-22 03:27

    I expected more from this book. Into The Wild meets Helter Skelter.......not so much. The insight into the Alaskan mindset and how they related to each other, the National Parks service and the environmentalists was very interesting. It's funny how alliances are made and broken over the passage of time.The Pilgrim family story was eye opening at first, but rather predictable towards the end. I felt bad for so many individuals in this tale.The story is worth knowing and it makes you want to go to McCarthy Alaska. Read it only when you have run out of four star choices.

  • Lea
    2018-11-19 19:26

    Thoroughly researched and well written account of one family's life in the Alaskan wilderness -- with a disturbing and unsavory twist to the tale. This one literally made my stomach hurt while I was reading it -- the author does a skillful job of peppering the story with clues about what was coming, while still not giving anything away until later. I really didn't know anything about this book before I started reading it, and I expected the story to go in an entirely different direction. I don't really have much more to add here, other than reading this made me both angry and sad -- well worth the read, but some people might have a hard time with the subject matter.

  • leslie beaird
    2018-11-20 23:15

    Oh my GOSH!!! This book is AWFUL!!! I read 50 pages .....then went 50 more.... I kept reading, but I can't go on. There is no building up of the never "connect" with anyone...people come and go with little snippets of information..... No story ever builds up!!! I READ Helter Skelter and truly enjoyed it.... This book comes no where near in comparison....I am so puzzled at all the 5 stars...maybe it's me? I just don't get it....I could not get into the rhythm of this book......I was so excited to read it and I am SO DISAPPOINTED!!!!!!

  • Melissa Jones
    2018-11-11 00:30

    Silly of me, a person not interested in Alaskan history to read a non-fiction book about Alaska. I was more interested in the sociopathic father and his family. That being said, I would have liked to get a little more in depth into the family drama and a little less with the historical facts. That's just me. But, if you are a reader who likes all of those components, you are sure to rate this a four or five.

  • Karen
    2018-11-16 01:16

    I don't know if it makes me a voyeur, but I found this book fascinating and difficult to put down! I was sent this book by the First Reads giveaway, and I couldn't wait to get it, and couldn't wait to start it once it arrived. Tom Kizzia has done a remarkable job in writing this must read book, weaving together the various plots and subplots into a story that must fall into the category of "You can't make this shit up"!A narcissistic Jesus freak/hippie/back to nature devotee whose origins were from a well to do Texas family of some fame who ends up a sick and violent patriarch who tortures his family of 15 children and a wife, as well as his "friends" and acquaintances. He uses the Bible to justify his lies and misdeeds, his anti-government screeds to get his way in the wilderness which he tarnishes, and his fists to extract complete submission from his family. The famous are woven into his story. He was married briefly to the daughter of John Connelly, of the Kennedy assassination fame and former governor of Texas. He lived on land owned by Jack Nicholson, and ended up near Wasilla Alaska, home of the former Governor of Alaska. None of these folks condoned his lifestyle, it just adds an odd twist to the story, and makes you wonder how he was able to keep secret the crimes he perpetrated in his household.Many of the themes are very topical and relevant to current battles in our country. Right wing vs. left wing politics. Evangelical and rigid Christianity vs. secular society. States rights vs. Federal control. Environmentalism vs. Private property rights. Dominionism, including over beasts, land and women and children, made me very uncomfortable, showing just how much damage can be done by an outwardly charming, supposedly pious man of God, who is able to home school (supposedly) his children who end up not being able to read....never having been allowed to read anything but the Bible and "look" at Pilgrim's Progress. I remain astounded that this family, in our time, could be so off the grid, and that so much damage could be done to its members, with no one seeing or intervening until the damage that has been done is monstrous. I cried for the victims, and will be wondering for a long time if they have been able to heal their wounds. Thanks Tom Kizzia for writing such a great history of Papa Pilgrim and his family, for weaving them into the landscape of our time, and telling the story with such gentleness and respect for the players.

  • Dick Reynolds
    2018-12-01 20:31

    Papa and Kurina Rose Pilgrim arrived at the Alaskan town of McCarthy in 2002 with their fifteen children in tow. To all outward appearances, the family looked like they’d thrive in the Wrangell Mountain wilderness and be an asset to the community. The entire Pilgrim family performed an impromptu program of old-timey country music to show their appreciation for their warm welcome. The Pilgrims had come to Alaska in search of land and space where they could live their lives and not be bothered by anyone, especially the government. Previously, they had lived for twenty-three years in the wilderness area near the town of Mora, New Mexico on the eastern side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. (I’m familiar with this beautiful area, about 100 miles north of Santa Fe where I live.) But the Pilgrim family were not good neighbors or stewards of the land and ultimately wore out their welcome and had to move. Within weeks of their arrival, the Pilgrims had bulldozed a road up to an abandoned copper mine and national preserve, setting the stage for a protracted battle with the National Park Service. Even worse, Papa treated the members of his family like slaves; the children did not receive any education, they were beaten for the slightest infractions and were largely ignorant of civilization outside their immediate surroundings. Papa’s harsh discipline was always administered in the name of Jesus and while reading of all this I wondered what emotional scars he was inflicting on his children that would last a lifetime. Author Tom Kizzia learned of the Pilgrim family while he was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News and has done considerable research on the family’s origin of its founder, Papa Pilgrim, who was born Robert Hale in Ft. Worth, TX and the twin son of a retired high-ranking FBI agent. This is an engrossing book. I read the first 150 pages in one afternoon after I started it. I finished it last night and had difficulty sleeping, haunted by the evil done by Robert Hale to his wife and children under the false facade of religion. You’ll probably need a strong stomach to get through this sordid tale but you’ll be inspired by others in the McCarthy community who reached out in true Christian love to help the injured Pilgrim children after Papa’s crimes came to light.

  • Cher
    2018-11-19 03:24

    3.5 stars - It was really good.A fascinating true story that takes a significant plot twist in the middle making it almost feel like two separate books about two different subjects. The first half deals with Hale's interesting start to life and his ties to Fort Worth and TCU (hitting close to home for this Texas girl). From there you find yourself pulling for the rugged pioneer and his large family as they try to homestead in the brutal environment of Alaska. How dare big government infringe on the little man's rights? Oh wait, maybe that's not how it was at all. Suddenly you are unsure as you start to see the wild gooseberry chase that the Pilgrim/Hale family sends the government on, in a pompous display of wastefulness, spite and disregard for others.Now that you are starting to see another side of the Pilgrim/Hale family, the story took a twist to shed light on the family dynamics. At this point you see Hale for the delusional hypocrite that he really is, let alone abusive monster. I particularly love how he was ready to make the world burn and bring war to anyone that took a piece of garbage that belonged to him, while simultaneously teaching his kids how to steal from everyone in their reach. It is amazing that the author was able to write such a neutral and fair representation of the events and "man", knowing how things ultimately end. Speaking of how things end, (view spoiler)[I cannot even describe the ways I would have desecrated that man's corpse if I was his wretched wife. After putting up with his abuse and poverty stricken lifestyle for over 30 years, he wants to be buried with his first wife that he was with for all of five minutes and almost certainly killed? Let someone else bury his sorry arse and good riddance. (hide spoiler)]-------------------------------------------Favorite Quote: They still believe Jesus is coming. But there are lives to be led in the meantime.First Sentence: In the winter of 2002, a man with the wild gray beard of a biblical prophet showed up in the remote Alaska ghost town of McCarthy with his wife and fourteen children.

  • CiderandRedRot
    2018-11-11 21:16

    3.5 StarsQuestion: is a cult still a cult if the only members are immediate blood relations? (Answer: ...Probably?) It is not surprising to learn that Bobby Hale (aka Sunstar aka Papa Pilgrim), the manipulative hermit who moved his brood of god-fearing sons & daughters from the mountains of New Mexico to one of the most remote regions of Alaska, was briefly an associate of Charles Manson. Even though Hale went an opposite route, interpreting and perverting biblical scripture for his own abusive purposes, there's a loopy connection in their shared ability to fuck with unformed minds. It is surprising to learn that Hale was the son of a well-known FBI agent, a privileged kid who came of age in the prosperous 1950s, and who may have had a hand in his first wife's death by 'accidental' shotgun blast at the tender age of sixteen.This is a bizarre story, which - as a previous reviewer noted - one could expect to read like Helter Skelter meets Into the Wild given the subject matter. However, despite the ick-factor of Hales' brutal family regime and the isolating nature of the Alaskan landscape, which appears here as a vital character, this is a story about figureheads and community ties. The frontier nature of Alaska attracts people - like Pilgrim - who feel themselves born a century too late. Drawn to the enterprising spirit of these gnarly backwoods communities, they seek independence from the administrative red tape clogging up the lower forty-eight. Amongst such independent people, the ragtag Pilgrim clan - with their charming blond muppets and down-home musical charms - became a symbol of the inferring nature of the National Parks Service vs. personal liberties, so much so that the more distasteful nature of Hale's cult of personality was willingly overlooked for far too long.

  • Alma Gravel
    2018-11-18 20:22

    Ever read a true story and think "those people could not possibly exist"? This is that story - I've seen pieces of this during my life - "overbearing father", "mother unable to connect with the reality of what was happening in her life (and that of her children)", "townspeople in survival mode embracing an ideal because they have projected their own values on the person presenting the ideal". This story starts with the subject of the book marrying and then killing John Connally's daughter (yes, the daughter of the man who was governor of Texas and who was wounded in the Kennedy assassination)and from there it just gets more weird - you get a real in depth look at the wilds of Alaska and the politics and dissent that surrounded the creation of the huge national parks in the Alaskan wilderness. You will meet a family with 16 children. For the most part, those children were never schooled, reaching adulthood illiterate. I am left grateful for good parenting and reveling in the fact that I could read their story, appalled that people could see this situation and not try to rescue these children, instead, embracing the family and enabling the lifestyle.

  • Susan (aka Just My Op)
    2018-11-19 19:34

    I'm not generally a violent person, but if I found myself standing in front of Robert Hale, the self-named Papa Pilgrim, I would have been tempted to slap him silly at the very least. Not a very Christian attitude? Well, that's okay. If you are Papa Pilgrim, you create your own self-serving vision of Christianity.This story is fascinating and at the same time, horrifying and disgusting. The man: a violent megalomaniac, a pervert, a thief, a suspected murderer, and a monster. A self-appointed god who lived on welfare and donations while espousing the frontier way of living. The story is well written, and the pictures are wonderful, even in the advance reader's copy I read and which probably don't have the quality as in the finished edition. As interesting as I found the story, I also found it bad for my blood pressure. I have not responded so viscerally to a story in...well, longer than I can remember.Early in the book there was more information than I wanted about the history of mining in the valley, and I thought the book might be boring. Wow, was I wrong.This man's wife was only a teenager when he married her, but it didn't take long for him to show his true colors, when she had “only” a handful of children instead of 15. She often spent time away from him while they were looking for new places to live. So why didn't she leave in the early years?I would have liked to know more about her. Is her behavior understandable? Yes. Is it excusable? That is a harder one to answer.As infuriating as this book was to read, I thank the publisher for providing a copy to me and the author for researching and writing the book while fighting his own battles.

  • Melissa
    2018-11-27 00:29

    I’m all for stories about crazy coots who move to Alaska to be all self-sufficient & eccentric (in fact, I long to be such a person myself someday), but this was a good deal darker that I expected. It’s pretty engaging to read about the fight between Papa Pilgrim, his wife, their fifteen children, and that dastardly Parks Service, but oh my, things certainly take a turn for the appalling when the reader learns what’s really been going on in that cabin. (view spoiler)[“As Country Rose described how her husband ordered their daughter to do a dance and get him ready to bring forth his seed, Payne felt the hair prickle on the back of his neck.” Ugh, me too.(hide spoiler)]This is obviously really well researched & very well-written, it just gets a little clumsy when Kizzia first inserts himself into the story. He’s already used Elishaba as a source in previous chapters, but when he originally meets the guy he talks about how Pilgrim confuses him – could he really be as bad as he seems? Does he have a legitimate grievance about the inflammatory article that Kizzia’s written, even though Kizzia tried to be even-handed? Meanwhile, I am yelling at the book (view spoiler)[ “But he was having sex with his daughter & beating his kids half to death!” (hide spoiler)] but of course, Kizzia had no idea this was going on yet. I can be too literal for some things. Suffice it to say, although the wilderness is probably sadly going to be entirely tamed by the time I plan to build myself a cabin in Alaska (tourism board motto: Before You Die), I’ll be a lot nicer to people whenever I end up there.

  • Ariel
    2018-11-27 23:16

    Updated: Blasted through this book this weekend. It was interesting, highly-readable, and a good primer on some of the land politics at work in contemporary Alaska - particularly around the Wrangell St. Elias National Park. Also a compelling picture of small-town life - but not just any small town, one that's essentially comprised of people from "elsewhere" that have formed a uniquely open-minded yet isolated community. Oh, and the portrait of the unusual Pilgrim family does a great job of teasing out the complicated psychologies of a charismatic yet truly awful man and the way in which he misleads and manipulates those around him - both his family and the community. The author is a journalist with a major Anchorage paper, so the writing is straightforward, to-the-point, with limited frills and embellishment. Refreshing, but not a challenging read (which makes it a nice summer book, right?).Overall, if you tend to like this kind of book, you'll probably enjoy it. If you read the recent blurb in Outside or heard the recent interview on NPR, it is just what is sounds like - no surprises here. *****Just started this, but I'm a sucker for anything about survivalists and religious goofballs. Looking forward to it.

  • Catherine
    2018-11-21 03:43

    I love these "truth is stranger than fiction" accounts -- and in this case, the truth is seriously whackadoodle. "Papa Pilgrim," AKA "Preacher Bob" and "Sunstar," and actually named Robert Allen Hale, lived several lifetimes worth of adventure and pure crazy. Tom Kizzia, an Alaskan journalist who reported on the events as they happened, put the whole story together interviewing the Hale family, other key players, relatives, and people from their past. I wasn't entirely satisfied with the way he organized the story, jumping around quite a bit within the later Alaska saga, as well as interweaving the family's story before arriving in Alaska. Overall, he told the story well, and with a lot of compassion for the rest of the Hale family, who suffered greatly at the hands of a despotic psychopath. Random trivia: My hometown (Battle Ground, Washington) was mentioned in the book as being the headquarters of the American Land Rights Association, which supported Robert Hale in his battle with the National Parks Service. Hale and several of his older children even stayed in Battle Ground for a while at the home of ALRA founder Chuck "Rent-a-Riot" Cushman.

  • Donna
    2018-12-09 19:17

    This book is true crime. Because this book took place in Alaska, I was interested in it because that is where I spent the first 28 years of my life. It is about people (namely a very large family with 15 children) that my mom would call "crack pots" which might mean something totally different today. But just let me just say, Alaska attracts many people like this. Some people move there to escape whatever they are running from, expecting wild west type freedom because this state is so vast. This book is religion and domination gone horribly wrong. I've read some of these news stories from the Anchorage Daily News, but I was expecting all the backstory with this book. While I did get that, it read like a dry report. That is not the type of reading I enjoy, but the story was a gripping hook. It is amazing to me, how long people like Papa Pilgrim can get away with their warped grip on people, breaking laws, and committing the unthinkable, for such a long time. He hid it so well. So no one gets involved and the victims don't stand up to him. Thankfully people wake up in this scenario and the end comes....but it is a tragedy and no one seems to get what they deserve.

  • Koren
    2018-11-21 01:26

    This book is similar to some books I have read about Mormon cults, but these people weren't Mormons. The father is an aging hippie (well, I guess all hippies are aging, aren't we!) who ends up taking his wife and 14 children to the forest in Alaska, which is actually a national park. He thinks he can do whatever he wants. He cuts down trees and finds a bulldozer so he can build roads and thumbs his nose at the government. But his downfall is how abusive he is to his family. They dress like they are in the pioneer days and if anyone goes against what he says there is hell to pay. While I would have liked the story to move along a little faster, it was interesting enough to keep my interest and I did want to keep going to see how it all turned out in the end. Lots of history about the national park system in Alaska here and startling to realize how quickly a person or a business can come along and spoil the last of our pristine wilderness.

  • Bethany Zimp
    2018-12-10 23:29

    I tore through this book as it was exactly my style of reading. The craziness fascinates me (seriously, how do mentally ill brains work) and the back history was bizarre (really, FBI, Fort Worth, JFK?). I hated seeing what happened to the family and how others used the children instead of helped (hello, blinded small town and GOP who put an ILLITERATE brainwashed-victim on the ticket). The author did a nice job of researching, writing, and trying to stay objective with what could have been very sensationalized topics. At completion, I feel I have a much better grasp of what actually happened and perhaps a better understanding of why. I'm still fascinated by many of the children who remain living locally and the community who helped them out. Alaska is such a small town.

  • Bruce
    2018-11-14 01:38

    Tom Kizzia, an Alaskan investigative reporter, published this book in 2013. It is the account of the Pilgrim family in McCarthy, Alaska, during this current century’s first decade. I was intrigued to read the book because I returned from McCarthy less than a week ago, a visit that left me puzzled about the history of the area and the attitudes of many residents toward the federal government.Robert Hale was a Texan with a troubled past even before he married his fourth wife by whom he fathered fourteen children. For several years the family lived in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of northern New Mexico in a remote area, experiencing a series of run-ins with neighbors and the law and living a life of secrecy. Styling himself “Pilgrim,” Hale ultimately took his family to Alaska, seeking a place to establish an enclave far from other people and especially from governmental authorities. He could not have chosen a spot better for his purposes than McCarthy. The only town (of only a few dozen residents) in the relatively new (since 1980) Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve – the largest national park in the US - McCarthy (which continues to be relatively inaccessible except by bush plane) was representative of the many Alaskan citizens who believed in self-sufficiency, libertarian personal freedoms, and the rejection of government interference in all aspects of their existence (although they were more than happy to receive their share of oil revenues from the state, food stamps, etc). Initially received by the citizenry with great cordiality and support, encouraged in their establishment of a homestead several miles out of town, and cheered on by their neighbors when they violated National Parks boundaries and rules, they eventually began wearing out their welcome when their actions and attitudes began to seem self-serving and “unneighborly.” Nonetheless, their increasingly frequent and confrontational clashes with authorities provided a focus for hostile attitudes in the region against the National Park Service and “meddling” environmentalists.When it became known that Pilgrim was a religious extremist and autocrat who physically and emotionally abused his children and wife and who engaged in regular incest and rape in the home, most people turned against him. The book is an interesting study of Alaskan culture and attitudes, at least in geographically remote areas, of the conflicts between cultures in a frontier that “the lower 48” has not experienced in a century, of religious extremism and autocracy, and of the abuse that can be inherent in a isolated environment (none of the children, even the eldest who was 29, was ever taught to read, and none was allowed to communicate with anyone outside the immediate family on the premise that he or she would be religiously contaminated and doomed for eternity). In addition, Kizzia has reviewed the history of the region, including the role of McCarthy as a drinking and whoring outlet for the nearby Kennecott Copper Mine only five miles away, a restrictive company town that flourished from about 1904-1938 and is now abandoned but open to visitors.One cannot help but anticipate continuing tensions within the state as an increasing influx of residents seeking the preservation of natural beauty and environmental protection collides with an existing ethos of fierce and sometimes paranoid individualism and opposition to outside rules and influences of any kind. Of course, Alaska is also an attractive goal for individuals who are attracted by this “final frontier” mentality. It is not clear how the seemingly inevitable tensions and conflicts can be easily resolved. Kizzia has done, it seems to me, an admirable job of balancing values and perspectives in his account, although the extremes of each side probably feel that he has unfairly favored their opponents. This is certainly an interesting read for those curious about the specific places and events described as well as general attitudes and perspectives within our 49th state.

  • Sue
    2018-11-11 02:39

    This book is the author's account of his own experiences in the wilds of Alaska, his first-hand exposure to the family in question, and a scary indictment of the sort of religious extremism that seems to be increasingly common in the United States, bred from the "rugged individualism" mentality. The "Pilgrim" family was a textbook example of how a charismatic leader/father used mental and physical abuse, bullying tactics, extreme censorship and isolation, emotional manipulation, and charm (when it suited him), to control the lives of his enormous family and eventually his neighbors.

  • Ted
    2018-11-30 20:37

    Outstanding book, whether you live in Alaska or not. A fascinating story that examines the dark side of faith gone too far and how it can be welded by bad people over others. Also examines the property rights movement, along with how people can be manipulated. Highly recommend this - great and fast read!

  • Cindy
    2018-11-17 02:13

    While this book was very interesting and the author did good research, I felt it was written in a very boring manner. He did try to remain professional toward an evil man and I didn't really feel it was bias. His writing skills are good in terms of grammar, but it read like a 200 page article in the Times.

  • Mustang
    2018-11-12 00:29

    Well done! Mr. Kizzia has done a remarkable job of blending facts, stories, and horrific family details. It is a must read for those in Alaska who remember the Papa Pilgrim story or for those who want to learn about how family dynamics are not always for the better.

  • Julia
    2018-12-09 23:38

    The fascinating contradictions of a "frontier family" who can barely care for themselves, for a Christian family that steals, and for a anti-government family who rages against the National Park Service but happily accepts their Alaska Permanent Fund money. As has been noted, an interesting read for people who liked Jon Krakauer's books, for example.

  • Mark Yellis
    2018-11-10 23:34

    Well written book of terror within a family. The family is bizarre and twisted but seems oddly fundamentally Christian to the core. It is what happens behind the scenes that is shocking. At first I identified the father and some of the large family as someone I know in Maine. However as I quickly discovered, the horror within was more than I could imagine. Sadly this is probably not a "one-off" but probably something that happens with some regularity within this collective group of people. Left me sad and wanting more redemptive qualities when I finished it. My secret: I had to look up the circumstances of what happened before I got to that part as I was unable to wait. Initially I admired the family and its independent minded leader (dad). That changed rather quickly as I proceeded through the book.

  • Denny
    2018-12-10 03:33

    Not having heard of Robert Allen Hale a.k.a. Papa Pilgrim or of author Tom Kizzia before, I discovered Pilgrim's Wilderness while browsing my local library's audiobook shelves for something new to consume during my daily 90-minute commute. Even though stories of lawbreaking, abusive, destructive, self-righteous, hypocritical, megalomaniacal, socio- or psychopathic, fundamentalist and/or zealously religious, too often but not always conservative Christian evangelical Biblical literalists fill me with a disbelieving, horrified anger every time, I am unable to resist indulging myself when I come across them. I guess I enjoy hearing about people who are so monstrous that I can reasonably think of my self as good and decent by comparison. Pilgrim's Wilderness is a very well-written, enlightening, engaging, and entertaining example of all of the above. Largely through the use of intermittent flashbacks, it briefly tells the sordid tale of Hale's early life from his privileged and pampered youth through his shady adolescence and early adulthood while focusing largely on the events surrounding his married life as Papa Pilgrim and the growth of his family of Biblical proportions and their misdeeds under his inflexible, iron-handed, infernal disguised as godly guidance.The Pilgrim family's story is one of physical, psychological, and emotional abuse inflicted by Papa upon his wife and all of his children as well as a chronicle of the family's environmental destruction, repeated willful theft and vandalism, and felonious damage of public and private property stretching from Texas northwest all the way to McCarthy, Alaska. It's the profoundly disturbing tale of how one charismatic, deeply disturbed man uses his warped understanding and interpretation of the Bible and perennial favorite The Pilgrim's Progress to hold his family and neighbors in thrall and to justify a list of offenses, many of them horrific, that wouldn't be out of place in Lamentations or any other Biblical list of grievances.Reading or listening to the grievous wrongs committed by Papa and to a lesser extent his family is often a painful experience. It's sometimes hard to believe he was able to get away with so much wrongdoing for so long. I believe it because I see far too much of the same thing almost every week in my line of work. The tale is ultimately redeemed by Kizzia's in-depth, fair-minded coverage of events, by the end of the story describing Papa Pilgrim's ignominious end, and especially by the release of his family from spiritual and psychological bondage as they begin on the path of personal renewal, redemption, and the start of comparatively normal and productive lives.I would not recommend this book for the faint of heart or to anyone who is unwilling or unable to believe that such offenses can be committed by professing Christians or other devoutly religious people. But if you have a strong stomach and an open mind, I give it my highest recommendation.