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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

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  6,161 ratings  ·  826 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 tr
Hardcover, 292 pages
Published July 16th 2013 by Crown (first published January 1st 2013)
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Average rating 3.75  · 
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 ·  6,161 ratings  ·  826 reviews

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Feb 24, 2013 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 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: disturbing, religion
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
Kenny Smith
Aug 11, 2013 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
Bonnie Brody
May 25, 2013 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
Jul 24, 2013 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
Jul 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
I was not expecting this book to be a page-turner, but it is. Superb writing and organization by Mr. Kizzia serve the story of creepy fanatic religious hypocrite "Papa Pilgrim" Hale and his family well. This is a disturbing and honest look at a dangerous man marinating in self-righteousness, and the sadistic wounds and pain he inflicted on his family. Hale counted on McCarthy, Alaska to shield his brutality and line his pockets, and it did, for a while. There's not exactly a happy ending but a h ...more
Heather Fineisen
Sep 10, 2013 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
Cathrine ☯️
3.5 great-audio-book-on-my-walks ★s
leslie beaird
Jul 24, 2013 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
Aug 01, 2013 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
Sep 14, 2013 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 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.
Sep 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Tom Kizzia ran across the Pilgrim family when he and his wife (who was to die quite early, unfortunately) in McCarthy, Alaska, a town that time and the mining industry had abandoned and forgotten. It's remoteness, gorgeous scenery, and culture of self-reliance are perhaps what attracted both families. 

Kizzia worked for a newspaper. He and his wife were transplants from the east, she working for the Sierra Club. They built a cabin close to McCarthy and so Kizzia was more or less accepted as a kin
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 abusive
Oct 03, 2013 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
Dick Reynolds
Jun 18, 2015 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
Nov 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, 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
Susan (aka Just My Op)
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
Alma Gravel
Jul 23, 2013 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
Jul 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: true-crime
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 ...more
B Zimp
Oct 20, 2013 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
Trigger warnings: suspicious death, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, miscarriage, child abuse, incest, rape, domestic violence, animal death, psychological manipulation, mentions of suicide.

Well. This was a wild ride from start to finish... For some reason, when I looked at the cover of this book, I assumed it was set in the 1960s or 1970s. It's not. The bulk of the story takes place in the early 2000s. And the story itself is...yikes.

Basically, it's about a violent man who ultimately finds religion
Aug 07, 2013 rated it liked it
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) ...more
Jul 27, 2013 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
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
Mar 20, 2016 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 12, 2014 rated it liked it
This book was very interesting and the author did good research; however, I felt it was written in an incredibly boring manner. He did try to remain unbiased toward an evil man, which can’t have been easy; however, I couldn’t enjoy a “just the facts” approach in this case. His writing skills are good in terms of grammar, but it read like a 200 page article in the Times.
And, I feel it’s worth mentioning - does this book have similarities to the TVomentry series Alaskan Bush People? Unfortunately
Aug 09, 2013 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!
Sep 03, 2015 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
Kelsey Hanson
Jul 06, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
Actual Rating: 2.5 (You're killing me here goodreads).

There is something about the journalistic writing style that I have never really loved. This story was very interesting, but I found it a bit hard to follow. The book tells the story of a how a young affluent man turned into a religious and controlling zealot. I feel that the Alaskan background is quite crucial to the story, but the whole NPS battle never completely made sense to me. I definitely felt for the family and hope that they found
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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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