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

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When a man calling himself Papa Pilgrim arrived in the remote town of McCarthy, Alaska with his wife and 15 children, the townspeople were welcoming if a bit skeptical of their self-professed religious piety.

However, the Pilgrims soon became the talk of McCarthy when they bulldozed a road to their home — right through land managed by the National Park Service. As the battle between the federal government and the Pilgrims escalated, questions arose about whether all was well within the family’s isolated home.

In Pilgrim’s Wilderness, Alaskan journalist Tom Kizzia details the disturbing story of a larger-than-life man and the legal battle that finally bared to the world the truth about his family.

Note: trigger warnings for sexual abuse, domestic abuse, and child abuse.

"With God's direction, he had raised up his children on horseback in New Mexico mountains named for the Blood of Christ.  There were fifteen of them, he said.  Pilgrim was a trained midwife and had delivered each child at home.  They had never seen a television nor experienced the temptations of the world.  They were schooled at home, tended flocks of sheep in alpine meadows, made their own buckskin, and lived pretty much as their forebears did a century ago, innocent and capable and strong, spinning wool and making lye soap and each night singing songs of praise.  The Pilgrim children were silent and listened raptly to their father's words, as if uncertain how the story would turn out.  The absence of teenaged restlessness among these bright and earnest offspring would strike many, on first meeting, as a healthy sign of what it must have been like to grow up within an oral tradition."

Tom Kizzia is an author and journalist.  He has worked as a reporter for the Alaska Daily News and his writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post.  His books include Pilgrim's Wilderness and The Wake of the Unseen Object

Published:  2013
Length:  292 pages
Set in:  McCarthy, Alaska, United States