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180 of 188 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The End of the Road - An Alaskan Tale of Horror and Adventure
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...
Published 19 months ago by Bonnie Brody

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars As the title indicates: "A true story of...." a mad man who believed himself to be God and Alaska is big enough to hide in.
I read this out of curiosity. I live in Alaska and recall this happening. The Hale family, under the direction and authority of Bob Hale wiped out many of the charity coffers on the Kenai Pennisula and other food banks and clothing charities in Alaska. The book speaks mostly of Bob Hale's life and how he manipulated the government, the neighbors and anyone he met...
Published 2 months ago by Vanessa Kay Berg


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180 of 188 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The End of the Road - An Alaskan Tale of Horror and Adventure, May 27, 2013
This review is from: Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier (Hardcover)
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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.
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93 of 99 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great writing, disturbing subject, July 15, 2013
By 
Joel Holtz (Vadnais Heights, MN) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier (Hardcover)
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Tom Kizzia's written a gripping account of a very sick and demented individual, Papa Pilgrim, who used to be known as Bobby Hale. Hale was simply a sexual pervert, master manipulator, drunk, burglar, abusive parent, and possibly a murderer.

This guy beat his own kids and wife, raped his own daughter, and constantly condoned stealing from other people. Towards the end of the book I literally said out loud to myself, "how can a human being act like that?"

In the end, his drinking and diabetes and other ailments killed him. You almost want to feel sorry for the guy but I just couldn't. Any human being who insists on being called "Lord" has some major mental problems.

There are heroes in this book. The Buckingham family, who took in the kids after they left their abusive father. (And also Hale's abused wife, for that matter too). They gave them food and housing and showed grace to them.

Hale's first born daughter, Elishaba, is also one of the heroes of the book. Her courage to testify about her father's sexual and physical abuse would inspire anybody.

Lastly, the author himself, Kizzia is a hero. While researching Papa Pilgrim and his story, his wife died of ovarian cancer. He writes beautifully about her and her passion for the environment, and gives a moving tribute in the book to her.

Chapter 5, HOSTILE TERRITORY, about the dangers of being a park ranger, is for me the best in the book and is outstanding.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Now we know why, July 19, 2013
By 
W. Jamison "William S. Jamison" (Eagle River, Ak United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier (Hardcover)
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The title of Tom Kizzia's new book: Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaskan Frontier is an accurate title for the book. Because of the father's evil madness, the family life was not what it seemed to be to the public. Their beautiful music and prairie clothing hid the physical damage that their father inflicted upon them.
We bought one of their Newfoundland/ Great Pyrenees puppies one winter when they lived in Soldatna, Alaska. We were at their home for about an hour of two. We were fooled into thinking they were a happy Christian family. Though my wife's mother's intuition told her that something was off the only thing that looked off was one of the youngest little girls wearing a scarf across her face in the house. Now we know why.
For an interesting interview with the author have a look at this link:
media.aprn.org/2013/toa-20130723.mp3
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48 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and suspenseful read, May 27, 2013
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This review is from: Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier (Hardcover)
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This book blindsided me! I thought I was going to be reading an adventure story, with a man and his family's fight against the government and the brutal Alaskan land. Instead, it was the story of a beautiful, innocent family and the perverted, cruel, evil tyrant who ruled them. They said he was fundamentalist Christian, but he was not. He was a monster, who claimed whatever he wanted out of the Bible, while constantly doing things it says not to do. And he ruled his wife and 15 children with one of the most evil iron hands I have ever heard of. His wife had no more power than any of his children.

He put on a brilliant, glorious show for people, as did the whole family. The family were wonderful to get to know, especially Joshua, Joseph and Elishaba. I don't know how in the world all these children turned out to be such beautiful, good people as they did.

The story is very exciting, and the book is wonderfully written and hard to put down. Parts of it though are a very hard read and will just sicken you. But the good thing is, no one was killed and he did have to go to jail for his crimes. (This is with the probable exception of his first wife. Had he paid for what he most likely did to her, he would not have been around to ruin the life of his later wife and all the children.)

The picture on the front of the book is just amazing to me! The whole family of 17! And those kids on horseback could have come straight out of an old western, they look so natural.

I'm really glad that the government didn't treat this issue like they did Waco, and kill a lot of innocent, beautiful children. While I'm not sure I believe the stories of the Park Rangers on how they treated the Pilgrims, at least they were not violent with them. If only that had been the only fight the family had had, was with the Park Rangers, it would have made for a much happier book!
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pilgrim's Wilderness, May 31, 2013
By 
Ferdy (Georgia, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier (Hardcover)
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The back cover of this book describes it as Into the Wild meets Helter Skelter and that is honestly the best possible description. It is hard to believe that something like this happened within the past decade or truly even within this century. The Pilgrim family including Mama, Papa and about a dozen children has lived "off the grid" for over 20 years. First, they had a home in the desert southwest but then moved around until they ended up in a true ghost town in Alaska. By using government funds, the family buys a small, run down place near an old copper mine and almost immediately runs afoul of the Alaskan Parks Service by not following the established guidelines for people who reside on state park property.
Papa Pilgrim is a smooth talker who uses his children's musical talents to charm his neighbors and get their support in his efforts against "big government". He even manages to spread the word of his campaign throughout Alaska and gains the support of prominent politicians and other well known personalities.
As time passes, the Pilgrim neighbors notice that all is not as Papa has lead them to believe. His "Hillbilly Heaven" home site is actually more like Hell for his wife and children.
Through abuse, isolation, and deprivation, he has raised his children to believe that he is the "Lord" and must be obeyed or they will not go to Heaven. They know nothing other than his teachings from the Bible and the book Pilgrims Progress so they believe everything he says is the truth. Their plight, especially the abuse suffered by the oldest daughter, is what eventually uncovers the true colors of the self proclaimed modern day Moses.
This book is a riveting and well written true account of what has to be one of the strangest bits of recent Alaskan history. It reads at times almost like a horror story but then you realize that all of this really happened. I was glued to this book for the couple of days it took me to complete. I'd highly recommend it.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful reporting of a tough subject, June 19, 2013
This review is from: Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier (Hardcover)
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I first heard of Papa Pilgrim on my initial 2004 visit to Anchorage, where he was dominating local news. He seemed intriguing and perhaps somewhat sympathetic as a classic rebel figure at first glance with his flouting of authority -- making his own road with a bulldozer in a national park and siring a huge brood of Biblically named children who played fiddles and sang like angels.

The Pilgrim family lived near McCarthy, the oddest of places to someone from the Lower 48 -- my guidebook described this as a slowly falling-apart former mining town. At the time, I didn't see much point in visiting it, being as it required hours of bumping along a primitive road or flying in, so I focused on Denali, Barrow, Cordova and other destinations. The practice of inholding -- allowing folks to maintain residences or continue to buy private land within the giant Wrangell-St. Elias National Park -- also seemed a bit hard to follow for this Easterner, but it's just another part of how the Last Frontier does its own thing, and "Pilgrim's Wilderness" clarifies that some inholding goes on in the Lower 48, too.

But well-known Homer-based reporter Tom Kizzia digs deep into Papa Pilgrim's roots in Texas, including the oddest of connections to former Governor Connolly, and the family's eventual migration to New Mexico, unfolding riveting twists and turns all the way through as well as the increasing isolation of the children and wife from mainstream society. Just after the Pilgrims began hitting the national news in 2004 for their showdown over public vs. private land rights in national parks, their story turns nasty as can be. If you don't know the details, I won't provide spoilers, as you surely prefer to be able to let the story unfold on its own. I wasn't aware of the post-2004 events here, but Kizzia tells them in astounding detail as assisted by interviews with the adult children. They may be hard to take.

Kizzia is also the perfect person to tell this story, with his wife holding a connection to McCarthy in the form of cabin they visit, and his own family travails to endure concurrently with the Pilgrims' showdown with park officials. Kudos to the author for excellent work.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "There are strange things done in the midnight sun...", June 11, 2013
By 
Steven James (Washington State) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier (Hardcover)
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Robert Service nailed it right there. What is the draw to this last frontier? Whatever that allure is, it draws in those people that live on the fringe of our society. Some, like the Pilgrim family, escape to Alaska to avoid persecution for what they deem as disapproval over their way of life. This is not the story though. The Patriarch of the Pilgrim clam uses his religion to manipulate his family and tries to justify his actions to others.

Really, this is an exploration of the line that exists between tolerance of eccentricities and vigilance over deviant behavior. Much of this is told from the point of view of the author, who is a small part of the story. I wanted to hear more from the townspeople, although he does introduce some written records of the time of conflict from locals.

This is a very good read. If you have read "Into the Wild" or "Desperate Passages", this book will be right up your alley. While the survival of the human body is not as prevalent in this book, the survival of the human spirit is an essential theme. Just how much can a person tolerate, even when you are brought up in that doctrine, is an essential question here. These children knew no other way to exist.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good book but harrowing, August 2, 2013
This review is from: Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier (Hardcover)
This was a very well-written and very well-researched book. I could not put it down. I read it in a day even though I knew most of the story already from news reports. Papa Pilgrim's oldest daughter - the one who was victimized the most - was courageous for sharing her story with the author. The author did a really good job with very sensitive material.

FYI - In today's Anchorage Daily News (August 2, 2013), a letter was published from one of Papa Pilgrim's other children who did not want his family's story told:

"No Reason to Revisit Pilgrim Patriarch's Story" "I am writing this comment regarding the article run a few weeks ago in the paper on Tom Kizzia's book, Pilgrim's Wildnerness, from the perspective of a direct family member. I believe this story of my Dad's life should have died with him and not been encouraged to go on. My fear would be that his life encourages people to do the wrong thing. I lived this life with him and I believe it never should have been portrayed to the public like it has been done in this book. Though he was my father and I respect him for that role, he did a lot of hurt to a lot of people, mainly his family. Is there a reason why the hurt has to be relived? The book is not what it appears to be from the front cover; one big happy family. I would be careful to not have your children read it. Its content is to be equaled with X-rated material. David Hale"

Mr. Hale makes a very good point - the book contains some really difficult information in it and no one under age 21 or who is sensitive to the topics of physical and sexual abuse should read this book.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing but Captivating Read, July 19, 2013
In this engaging if disturbing piece of nonfiction, Kizzia captures the essence of the perverse Pilgrim clan that has indelibly marked Alaska and it no doubt will be remembered in tales of mythic proportion. Papa Pilgrim along with his wife and fifteen children sold themselves as a moralistic pack of holy-rollers when they first moved to Alaska; however, that façade soon vanished.

The family Patriarch, calling himself Papa Pilgrim, whose previous pregnant wife was found mysteriously shot in the head, had a less than upright past. After settling in McCarthy, Alaska, Papa Pilgrim decided to bulldoze a road into a state park and setup a meager one-room homestead there much to the government's and neighbors' dismay.

In harmony with outward unrest that the Pilgrim homestead created, much was amiss within it. Pilgrim's children were illiterate and sexually abused--many argue whether they were hostages or proud followers of their patriarch. In a land of seemingly endless frontier and self-invention, Papa Pilgrim pushed to the limits and ignited endless conflicts.

Kizzia's true account is one that captures the harrowing results of perverted libertarianism. A sense of place and landscape plays an integral role in this page-turner, as Alaska is in many ways a final frontier. If you enjoy true crime or tales of the more remote reaches of civilization, I recommend this book. Another engrossing account of life in the cold corners of the earth is Peter Freuchen's Arctic Adventure, in which Freuchen details his assimilation into Inuit life and culture.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life in a remote small town isn't always what it seems, July 21, 2013
This review is from: Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier (Hardcover)
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I didn't read very much in the way of previews about this book before I started it and I'm glad I didn't. Tom Kizzia does an excellent job of showing us how this true story about a family with a heavy sort of fundamentalist religion and 13 children and counting, transpires. They move up to a remote area of Alaska, about 8 hours by car from Anchorage, to an abandoned mine area just outside of the little town of McCarthy. There, they try to set up a homestead near an abandoned mine area where they purchase some property with a one room shack and some outbuildings. Tom and his late wife actually had a summer house not far from the area and knew all the people in the town including Papa Pilgrim, also known as Bobby Hale and a few other names in the past, who agreed to talk to him because he was "one of the locals". At first all the townspeople seemed to like the family. The cute little kids along with the older ones played instruments and sang religious songs in the local hotel/bar and they all seemed pretty wholesome and cute. The girls wore prairie type dresses and they all seemed very reverent. But, little by little things got stranger and stranger with the patriarch bulldozing a path through a part of the adjoining national park in order to bring building materials to the site and the whole family acting very confrontational toward the rangers and any of the neighbors that questioned them. The family grew to 26 children by the end of the story.

Kizzia has written this partly as an investigative reporter and partly as a storyteller. He gives clues early on that everything isn't quite right and then leads the reader into the story of what happened, following the actual timeline of occurrences. I read this book with my Kindle by my side, looking up the local newspaper from this small town with all the articles and editorials. Kizzia's book follows the story closely and adds his comments and views on the chain of events as someone who lived a few months of the year in the town. I thought he gave a fair interpretation of what happened along with parts of actual FBI and ranger's reports. He shows how truly eccentric the personalities of some people in tiny, remote towns like this can be and gives a glimpse of what daily life is like for people who have chosen to live off the beaten path and far away from everyone. It was definitely a page turner. It was disturbing, but very well written.
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Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier
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