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Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier
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Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier

3.72  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,935 Ratings  ·  577 Reviews
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 tro
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published July 16th 2013 by Crown (first published January 1st 2013)
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Mar 14, 2013 Caitlin rated it it was amazing
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, a ...more
Mar 20, 2015 Melki rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Bonnie Brody
May 27, 2013 Bonnie Brody rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 t ...more
Kenny Smith
Aug 12, 2013 Kenny Smith rated it really liked it
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 d
Jul 24, 2013 Becky rated it liked it
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 e
Heather Fineisen
Sep 07, 2014 Heather Fineisen rated it really liked it
"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 s
Aug 11, 2013 Scott rated it liked it
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
leslie beaird
Jul 24, 2013 leslie beaird rated it did not like it
Shelves: own-not-read-yet
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 ...more
Sep 09, 2015 Cher rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook
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
Dick Reynolds
Aug 16, 2015 Dick Reynolds rated it really liked it
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 b
Oct 31, 2013 Karen rated it it was amazing
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 f
Alma Gravel
Jul 26, 2013 Alma Gravel rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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, ...more
Oct 20, 2013 Lea rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Melissa Jones
Aug 05, 2013 Melissa Jones rated it liked it
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.
3.5 Stars

Question: 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 abus
Jul 28, 2013 Ariel rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fict
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 teasi ...more
Aug 08, 2013 Melissa rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Bethany Zimp
Oct 23, 2013 Bethany Zimp rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
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
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
Sep 15, 2015 Sue rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Sep 29, 2015 Sharron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good story

Watching the Edge of Alaska on Discovery Channel, and they mentioned that McCarthy, Alaska was where this beyond dysfunctional family ended up. Reading the book and watching the show about that particular town was an interesting experience.
From his roots in Texas, involvement with familiar names in recent history, and subsequent descent into delusional behavior, Bob Hale, aka Papa Pilgrim is a fascinating character. Unfortunately for his family and anyone involved with him he was a bru
Sep 01, 2015 Bruce rated it really liked it
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 fo
Nov 08, 2014 Cindy rated it liked it
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.
Aug 09, 2013 Ted rated it it was amazing
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!
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 ...more
Jul 28, 2013 Mustang rated it it was amazing
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.
Emi Bevacqua
I probably would have enjoyed Tom Kizzia's coverage of this story in the Anchorage Daily News in 2002, but I don't think it works in book form. At least not in the form of this book. Robert Hale transformed himself from scandalized privileged Texas son into Papa Pilgrim, a pioneering Alaskan squatter, seemingly modeled after God-abiding Christian of the religious allegory Pilgrim's Progress. He and his wife Country Rose aka Kurina Rose Hale and their 15 children pit themselves against the Nation ...more
Carrie Dye
Mar 05, 2014 Carrie Dye rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult
If I could give this book 6 stars I would! This is a fascinating read and it was hard put down to make dinner or pay bills etc. I have so many connections to this book having lived in a Alaska, and having relatives in New Mexico. If you want to get a snapshot of America today - read this book. All the characters, flaws, prejudices, myopia and self-absorption and delusion of the American culture populate this book. Thanks Tom Kizzia! Was it P.T. Barnum that said "There's a sucker born every minut ...more
Tom Culhane
Feb 16, 2014 Tom Culhane rated it really liked it
Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska FrontierPretty interesting read actually. The life and times of a career sociopath who unfortunately fathered 15 kids and tried to take over his own little corner of a National Park in Alaska. Was also likely guilty of murdering Governor John Connolly's daughter when he was 18 and she was 16 and pregnant. Has ties to Portland and Clark County Washington
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Tom Kizzia traveled widely in rural Alaska as a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. He has written for The New Yorker and The Washington Post and been featured on CNN. Tom is a former Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University and a graduate of Hampshire College. His stories about the Pilgrim Family won a President's Award from McClatchy Newspapers. His first book, The Wake of the Unseen O ...more
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