Pilgrim's Wilderness

Pilgrim's Wilderness

by Tom Kizzia

Ricki Brodie (03/31/14): The book evolved after the author had done numerous articles on Papa Pilgrim and his family who bought a mining claim in the farthest reaches of Alaska within the largest national park. We find that Papa had been born Robert Hale, attended school with Lee Harvey Oswald and eloped with to-be Governor John Connally’s daughter who happened to die of “suicide” from a gunshot wound from a shotgun with no fingerprints. Hale, the son of an all-pro football player turned FBI agent left the state and started a hippie lifestyle. He married his third wife and moved onto land in New Mexico owned by Jack Nicolson. Along the way Robert found God. He isolated his family and demanded they call him Lord. With his wife and 13 children he moves to Alaska.

They lived in two buildings until one was destroyed by fire. They all slept on sleeping bags in the main room. They were subsidized by the State to the tune of approximately $30,000 a year. Hunted for food and received donations from people who heard about them as minstrel performers and people who wanted to be left to their own devices on the land. The older sons would lead people up the trail on horseback to make some money. When he arrived in McCarthy, he bulldozed a road through the National Park. The National Park Service tried numerous times to engage Pap in a discussion of coming up to survey the land and to find out about its destruction of public land. A contentious legal battle followed with the NPS thwarted at all turns. The tiny town was divided on the issues but many at first liked the patriarch and championed his cause.

From an outsider, the children were always seen and not heard, seemed respectful yet had lots of bruises. The book then shows the true nature of Papa’s inhumanity and how he used scripture to his advantage. The older children plan an escape and eventually the horrors they suffered come to light.

It was a hard book to read about such a beguiling narcissistic monster who could charm the police, neighbors and anyone who would listen. My one problem with the book was, at times I felt like I was reading newspaper articles appended together rather than having it in “novel” form. This may be my own failing as I prefer that kind of format to articles. Mr. Kizzia did a great job of reporting the life of someone who identified with the lead character in Pilgrim’s Progress.
Rating: ***

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