If you lived in Alaska in the early 2000s, you were likely aware of the Pilgrim Family and their conflict with the National Park Service. When I sat down to read Pilgrim’s Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier by Tom Kizzia, I knew the basics: a family living in the wilderness battles with the Park Service over a road through a national park and the eventual arrest of the father for both physical and sexual abuse. The story was a little vague and my memory not so good.
Pilgrim’s Wilderness fills in the blanks. Kizzia’s research takes the reader through Robert Hale’s (aka, Papa Pilgrim) personal history from childhood to his wanderings that brought him and his family to Alaska. In addition to the story about Hale and his family, the book covers the history of McCarthy as a mining town, some of the personalities who lived in that small town and the history of the National Park Service.
There are points in the first half of the book that were a bit slow for me as a reader, parts of the background about the National Park Service that I didn’t find particularly interesting. I found the personalities of the people involved in the story captivating and tended to rush through some of the history to get back to their stories.
The anticipation and build up of the tale as the book progressed made me anxious to get back to it each time I put it down.
Pilgrim’s Wilderness is a fascinating profile of a man and the history that surrounded him and his family in small-town Alaska.