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 trouble to come. The Pilgrim Family presented themselves as a shining example of the homespun Christian ideal, with their proud piety and beautiful old-timey music, but their true story ran dark and deep. Within weeks, Papa had bulldozed a road through the mountains to the new family home at an abandoned copper mine, sparking a tense confrontation with the National Park Service and forcing his ghost town neighbors to take sides in an ever-more volatile battle over where a citizen’s rights end and the government’s power begins.
In Pilgrim’s Wilderness, veteran Alaska journalist Tom Kizzia unfolds the remarkable, at times harrowing, story of a charismatic spinner of American myths who was not what he seemed, the townspeople caught in his thrall, and the family he brought to the brink of ruin. As Kizzia discovered, Papa Pilgrim was in fact the son of a rich Texas family with ties to Hoover’s FBI and strange, oblique connections to the Kennedy assassination and the movie stars of Easy Rider. And as his fight with the government in Alaska 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, 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.
"A journalist's gripping account of a modern fundamentalist Christian pioneer family and the dark secrets that held it together.... Provocative and disturbing.” (Kirkus Reviews)
"Strong work of reportage.... [Papa Pilgrim's] intriguing past crumbles in comparison to his excruciating cruelty and to the inspiring grace and strength of his children." (Booklist)
"The riveting story of a megalomaniacal sociopath who left a trail of woe from Texas to the Great White North, Pilgrim’s Wilderness lends credence to the maxim that the unadulterated truth, when conveyed with sufficient skill, is not only more illuminating than fiction, but also more entertaining. Tom Kizzia has written an uncommonly insightful book about post-frontier Alaska, an ambitious literary work disguised as a page-turner, very much in the tradition of Edward Hoagland’s Notes From the Century Before and John McPhee’s Coming into the Country." (Jon Krakauer, author of Into the Wild and Under the Banner of Heaven)
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- Brian Lee