Author Topic: Tom Kizzia, PILGRIM'S WILDERNESS: A TRUE STORY ... (2013)  (Read 129 times)

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Offline agate

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« on: July 12, 2015, 03:47:31 pm »

Every man, woman, and child in Alaska has automatically received a bonus every year just for living in a state where oil was found years ago. If this situation hadn't given rise to at least a few opportunists over the years, I'd have been more than surprised as the bonus is quite substantial (I believe, around $1,000/year).

This book is an account of one person who was particularly successful in availing himself of Alaska's bountiful system: one Bobby Hale, who called himself Pilgrim (as in Pilgrim's Progress), the son of an FBI agent.  He began his family in the community of Taos, New Mexico--at which time he was active in transcendental meditation. Eventually he became an ardent Christian, one who was sure that God was speaking directly to him and who expected the end time to be just around the corner. He ended up in the Wrangell Mountains of Alaska with his wife, appropriating some National Park Service land to house his growing family--and their animals, snowmachines, and other paraphernalia.

Eventually  seventeen children were born to Papa Pilgrim and his wife "Country Rose." No one was ever allowed to be seen naked but the family seems to have slept jammed into one or two beds over the years.

Papa Pilgrim's word was law, and he trained the family to address him as "Lord."  At first he was home schooling the children but objected to the books--and as a result all of the children except the oldest daughter Elishaba grew up illiterate.

The author points out that Alaska has no laws mandating schooling for children: "The parents have complete authority."
In the Pilgrim household, so much freedom from community involvement was a license for child abuse and neglect.

For a number of years, the small community of McCarthy, of which the Pilgrim family were a peripheral part, heartily approved of their obvious piety, their sunny helpful spirit, their "one of us" Christian acceptability.

But time passed and, though the true brutality and tyranny of the household remained hidden, there were enough instances of questionable behavior on the family members' part to cause even the strongest supporters to back off. The Pilgrims, though giving folk-music concerts that pleased their audiences, were also a gun-toting group of bullying thugs.

However, there were others in the community who had their complaints about the National Park Service and who felt that it was an example of government control, an impingement on their rights, and the Pilgrims became their cause.

Elishaba, however, was to escape--at the ripe age of 29--and make known the truth about what went on inside the Pilgrims' private lives. Wanting to father 21 children but estranged from his wife, Pilgrim turned to his own daughter, Elishaba, to provide ancillary excitement so that, as he claimed, he could continue to impregnate her mother.

These sessions with Elishaba often involved brutal beatings, so severe and catastrophic that she suffered permanent physical damage. He often beat his other children very brutally as well.

Another devout Christian family, the Buckinghams (parents and nine children), took in some of the Pilgrim children in their flight from the prison of their family. This association proved so fortuitous that a couple of the Buckingham children married Pilgrims.

Papa Pilgrim had his day in court--and went to prison, where he died. We don't find out whether his warped theology died with him or whether some of the children remained the disciples he must have hoped for though it sounds as if all of them were relieved to be out of his clutches.

How such a violent, probably insane man can exercise total control over  his entire large family because of the isolation of a life in the wilderness is an absorbing but horrifying story. The author seems in thorough command of the facts--having followed the situation for a number of years as a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News.
MS Speaks--online for 13 years

SPMS, diagnosed 1980. Avonex 2001-2004. Copaxone 2007-2010.