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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 of 5 stars 3.72  ·  rating details  ·  3,050 ratings  ·  470 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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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
Bonnie Brody
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
Becky Weaver
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
Kenny Smith
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
leslie beaird
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
Melissa Jones
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.
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
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
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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.
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!
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
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
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
Here's the description from Amazon: 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 R ...more
Larry Zieminski
Jul 06, 2013 Larry Zieminski rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Non-Fiction fans, True Crime fans
With a tagline of "Into the Wild meets Helter Skelter," I was immediately intrigued by this true story of the strange Pilgrim family in Alaska. It turns out that Helter Skelter oversells the story a bit (there are no murders here), but I imagine that refers more to Papa Pilgrim, the patriarch of the family, whose dominating personality held his family hostage for decades.

Tom Kizzia does an excellent job retelling the story of this family, their attempts to start a new life in the Alaskan wildern
I have to admit that I had never heard of Papa Pilgrim and his family, although his saga apparently dominated the headlines in Alaska the early part of this century. But I immediately got drawn into the story of this eccentric religious fanatic and his family.

Tom Kizzia, who first reported on this story for the Anchorage Daily News, does an outstanding job of slowly uncovering the truth about this man, who while claiming to be a true man of God, spent years beating, bullying and raping his wife
I love McCarthy and the history surrounding the area. Land-use politics, the desire to return to subsistence living is what attracted me to this novel. Upon my purchase of this book, I learned more about the Pilgrim family through a NPR interview. I was hopeful this would not be a delve into their torment and painful recovery, but unfortunately this story would be incomplete without covering that portion of the Pilgrim's existence. Some chapters were hard to read. The novel tries to end upbeat a ...more
Jim Ainsworth
I saw a review of this book and knew I had to read it. I am fascinated by mountain people and other wilderness types, also by mountain and hillbilly music. But what really hooked me was that the main character in this book is the former husband of John Connally’s (Texas Governor, Secretary of the Navy and Treasury, etc…) daughter. Connally’s pregnant teenage daughter Kathleen died from a shotgun blast after running off with Robert (Bobby) Hale. Bobby was not indicted, though the death was very s ...more
Quentin Stewart
Tom Kizzia tells the story of a man and his family and how it all went wrong because of the father’s narcissism and his desire to be in control of everything and everyone. This man used the Bible and the love of his children for their father to create a cult with himself as the one through whom God spoke. Whether in the mountains of New Mexico or the backcountry of Alaska the one aspect that help him carry out his plan was isolation.

When Kizzia looks at Papa Pilgrim’s past and he runs across suc
Janice Todd
When the Pilgrim family hit the news none of us had a clue of what was going on. And then their world began to unravel. Amazing... that Tom Kizzia got this story from both sides and that we are now reading it. Teachers, nurses, doctors, lawyers pastors and neighbors should read this. it should be required reading because only if you've worked with abusive families, lived with abuse, people don't understand how it happens, why children stay, even prefer to return if taken away for protection. Thi ...more
Lori Staats
I was somewhat familiar with the story of the Pilgrim/Hale family, this book showed me how little I actually knew of the story. It was like watching a horror movie, difficult to watch, but too fascinating to stop. Reading details of what on in the household is disturbing. The abuse seems too awful to believe, Hale's denials unfathomable. When I thought I couldn't imagine his cruelty being any worse, new details emerged. I would describe the adult children who continued to live with him as suffer ...more
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Tom Kizzia's stories about the Pilgrim Family won a President's Award from McClatchy Newspapers. He traveled widely in rural Alaska as a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. His work has appeared in 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 first book, The Wake of the Unseen Object, was n ...more
More about Tom Kizzia...
The Wake of the Unseen Object: Travels through Alaska's Native Landscapes

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