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, his wife, and their fifteen children appeared in the Alaska frontier outpost of McCarthy, their new neighbors saw them as a shining example of the homespun Christian ideal. But behind the family's proud piety and beautiful old-timey music lay Pilgrim's dark past: his strange connection to the Kennedy assassination and a trail of chaos and anguish that followed him from Dallas and New Mexico. Pilgrim soon sparked a tense confrontation with the National Park Service fiercely dividing the community over where a citizen’s rights end and the government’s power begins. As the battle 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, veteran Alaska journalist, Tom 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.
In 2002, when the Pilgrim family, a curious group that included a husband and wife and 14 children, showed up in remote McCarthy, Ala., and homesteaded in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, their pioneer spirit, independent nature, religious piety, and throwback ideals were embraced by the frontier community. When the family got into a legal battle with the National Park Service, many Alaskans who bristled at the government's perceived infringement on landowners' rights came to the family's aid. But when journalist Kizzia (The Wake of the Unseen Object) started digging into the Pilgrims'' past especially that of the father, Papa Pilgrim (aka Bobby Hale) for the Anchorage Daily News, he uncovered a bizarre saga. Following Hale's journey from Texas to Alaska, which included stops in Florida, California, Oregon, and New Mexico and names like John F. Kennedy, Jack Nicholson, J. Edgar Hoover, and Texas Governor John Connally Kizzia discovers cracks in the paradisiac image the Pilgrim's presented to the public. Though it takes a little while for him to set up the story, once Papa Pilgrim's dark secrets start to become exposed (there are battles between the National Park Service, the government and various small towns), the author sends readers on a roller-coaster ride that is as thrilling as it is shocking. Kizzia's work is a testament to both the cruelty and resiliency of the human spirit, capturing the sort of life-and-death struggle that can only occur on the fringes of modern-day civilization.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Clear your schedule, you won't want to put this down!
A riveting tale of a religious zealot who charms his way in & out of lives & places from Texas to Alaska.
Over the years, many of us have heard tales of when this family came through town, from bringing their goats into stores, asking for discounts on gas, being a part of ok corral-esque stand offs & more.
Tom Kizzia has finally pieced the puzzle together in a way that not only makes sense of all the pieces, but leads us along an extraordinary tale of epic proportions & characters.
Definite must read, but do be forewarned, you'll want to prepare, as you won't want to stop reading until you are well past the last page. Yes, even the afterward & footnotes are well written!
What is a wanigan?
Loved the book although not an easy read. I had to look up a lot of words and terms. Quite a few words did not have definitions at least not on the iPad.
Nancy Harrington, Kihei, Maui, Hawaii
Good but not great
This is a compelling story but it seemed a bit stretched to make a book. A newspaper series would have sufficed. It often bogs down in land rights details but excels in character portraits. A good read and a quick read but shy of greatness.