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

by Tom Kizzia

Crown Publishing Group | July 15, 2014 | Trade Paperback |

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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.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 336 Pages, 5.12 × 7.87 × 0.79 in

Published: July 15, 2014

Publisher: Crown Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0307587835

ISBN - 13: 9780307587831

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– More About This Product –

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

by Tom Kizzia

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 336 Pages, 5.12 × 7.87 × 0.79 in

Published: July 15, 2014

Publisher: Crown Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0307587835

ISBN - 13: 9780307587831

Read from the Book

Prologue:  Third Month   When the song of the snowmachine had faded down the valley, the sisters got ready to go.  Elishaba moved quickly through the morning cold and snow in heavy boots, insulated pants beneath her prairie skirt, ferrying provisions from the cabin - raisins, sleeping bags, two white sheets.   Jerusalem and Hosanna tore through the tool shed looking for a spark plug.  The plugs had been pulled from the old Ski-Doo Tundras that morning to prevent escape. It was late in the third month and the days in Alaska were growing longer.  The overcast was high, the temperature holding above zero.  They knew they didn’t have much time.  Mountains squeezed the sky above the old mining cabin.  Behind, a glacial cirque climbed to God’s white throne.  For weeks, Elishaba had been looking up, praying at the summits and calculating the odds.  But she knew there was only one way out.  The only trail, the one that had brought their family the attention they used to shun, ran thirteen miles down the canyon, slicing through avalanche zones and criss-crossing the frozen creek until it reached a ghost town.  McCarthy was once a boom town of bootleggers and prostitutes.   These days it was the only place in the Wrangell Mountains that could still be called a community, though a mere handful of settlers remained all winter.  At first that isolation had been the attraction.  The Pilgri
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From the Publisher

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.

About the Author

TOM KIZZIA has traveled widely in rural Alaska for the Anchorage Daily News, and his work has appeared in the Washington Post and been featured on CNN.  His first book, The Wake of the Unseen Object, was named one of the best all-time nonfiction books about Alaska by the state's historical society.  He lives in Homer, Alaska.

Editorial Reviews

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER #5 on Amazon''s Best 100 Books of the Year A Mother Jones Best Book of the Year An Outside Best Adventure Book of the Year “Extraordinary...Mr. Kizzia has done an outstanding job unpacking Pilgrim''s story; the book is superbly researched, the writing clear and unflinching.” — Wall Street Journal “Pilgrim''s Wilderness is measured, painstakingly reported and gripping, giving us a true look at an escapist nightmare in America''s mythic and fading frontier.” — Los Angeles Times “Not since The Shining has family life off the grid seemed as terrifying as it does in Pilgrim’s Wilderness , by Tom Kizzia, but this time the chills come from nonfiction.” —Arts Beat,  New York Times “With even reporting and spare, lovely prose, Kizzia exposes the tyrannies of faith, and a family’s desperate unraveling. It will make your skin crawl.” — The Daily Beast “For those awaiting the next Jon Krakauer-esque classic, look to an Alaskan writer named Tom Kizzia... A gripping nonfiction thriller told with masterful clarity...I’m betting it will be the sleeper hit of the summer. Put it at the top of your stack.” — Outside Magazine “Reads like a bewitching, brilliant novel... Even in the hands of a mediocre writer, this story would be mesmerizing. But Kizzia’s gifts as a journalist and writer are such that it is a powerhouse of a book, destined to becom
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Bookclub Guide

1. Residents of McCarthy express nostalgia for life before the national park, before government rangers and extensive rules about bulldozers and cabin living. Do you think those old freedoms are worth preserving? What is the appropriate balance to strike between allowing pioneers the opportunity to follow their dreams and preserving nature in a pristine state, and between the rights of the individual and the interests of future generations?

2. McCarthy residents-even more than other Alaskans-tend to think of themselves as idealists pursuing off-the-grid lifestyles. Evil, when it comes, invades from the outside world. But the remote end-of-the-road community seemed to attract troubled, unstable individuals. Do you think the appearance of people like the mail-day murderer and the Pilgrim Family reveals something essential about McCarthy?

3. Do you think the abuse present in this book could have taken place anywhere, in a city apartment or on a quiet suburban street?

4. Once he left Texas, Robert Hale chose to raise his family on horseback in a rural setting amid the trappings of the Old West. How did it benefit Papa Pilgrim to deploy the mythology of the frontier as he did?

5. Robert Hale's sons don't believe he killed Kathleen Connally because, they say, he would have confessed to such a sin during his early devout days as a Christian. The Alaska prosecutor noted that such a confession could send a man to prison. Given the available evidence, do you think the death of his teenage bride was an accident?

6. The narrative doesn't progress chronologically, from Bob Hale's boyhood in Texas through New Mexico to Alaska. Instead, two story lines proceed in parallel for the first half of the book. Why do you think the author structured the story as he did?

7. What role did music play in the lives of the Pilgrim Family?

8. The Pilgrim children were denied access to movies and books. Why did Papa Pilgrim allow a single book, the seventeenth-century allegory The Pilgrim's Progress, in their home? Do you think there is an innate need for stories in our lives? How have the children used the Bible's stoies to explain their imprisonment and recovery?

9. How do you feel about the descriptions of abuse in the family? The author remains fairly dispassionate in tone and borrows some of the family's biblical euphemisms to depict the horrors unfolding. Is understatement an effective way to describe trauma, or does it leave you wanting to know more detail?

10. At one point, the children's mother, Country Rose, was forced to hold her sons' hands as they were strapped to the whipping barrel and lashed. Is Country Rose another victim of Papa's, or should she have done more to protect her children? What about the older sons? Were they wrong not to report whatever abuse they witnessed?

11. What about Elishaba? Should she have spoken up to her siblings, or to state authorities, rather than try to handle everything herself? Why would anyone remain in such an abusive situation?

12. Why do you think Papa Pilgrim precipitated a war with the National Park Service so quickly? How did he benefit from external conflict?

13. At one point, the Park Service planned to send forty-three personnel to investigate the Pilgrim Family's actions in the park, including an armed SWAT team to guard forensic biologists. Even after backing off, the government spent at least a half-million dollars on its response. Was this an effective way to deal with the situation? The family's defenders felt the government wanted to make an example of these "last pioneers" to establish their primacy in the mountains. Do you agree?

14. The author switches to first person to tell part of the story. Does this weaken the omniscient voice used elsewhere, or strengthen it? What does the author's personal story say about the pioneering legacy that motivates so many characters in the book?

15. In many ways, the views of the Buckinghams were as rigidly fundamentalist and patriarchal as those professed by Papa Pilgrim. What was the difference between the two families? Could a non-Christian family have intervened and played the same role as rescuers?

16.  If the Buckinghams hadn't entered the story, was there another way out for the Pilgrim children? What do you think might have happened?

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