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The Strange Saga of Papa Pilgrim Part Two The Arrest of Papa Pilgrim
The Strange Saga of Papa Pilgrim

Part Two

The Arrest of Papa Pilgrim

Quote from one of the source articles:
An old-timer I knew out here once told me, 'You never really get to know
somebody till you eat a bag of flour with them'

Papa Pilgrim in court arrested 10/06/05 and arraigned 10/10/05 in Palmer

64 year old Papa Pilgrim is in jail. His accusers are not the National
Park Service, but rather his own family!
Papa Pilgrim, wearing handcuffs and prison coveralls, was being
arraigned in a Palmer courtroom Thursday when the judge asked his
occupation. "I'm a father," he replied.

A contingent of media -- radio, television and newspapers -- occupied
the courtroom gallery for an otherwise short, routine piece of courtroom
On Sept. 22, 05, a Palmer grand jury indicted Pilgrim on 30 felony
counts, including 10 counts of sexual assault, one count of kidnapping,
eight counts of incest, eight counts of coercion, and three counts of
assault. The accusations made by Pilgrim's oldest daugher, reverts from
the present and back to eight years ago, when the family still lived in
New Mexico.
At the arraignment, Pilgrim said he had not read all the charges against
him but declined to have them read aloud. He declined his right to a
speedy trial, to give the Public Defender time to research his case.

Troopers Investigator Derek DeGraaf said Pilgrim has said nothing to
investigators about the accusations against him. Pilgrim told Judge
Smith he received $800 a month in Social Security and owned five acres
with his wife. Other property was held in a trust for their children, he
Pilgrim, is now in the Mat-Su-Pre-Trial Facility and the case now moves
to Glennallen.

Pilgrims wife and children, who brought the case against him to the
state troopers, were not present for the arraignment.
Family members, however, showed up Thursday at the Anchorage animal
control facility and picked up the dog that was in the van when Pilgrim
was arrested.

Pilgrim was caught Wednesday in Eagle River after slipping away from
Alaska State Troopers in McCarthy 12 days earlier. His bail was set at
$50,000 by Superior Court Judge Eric Smith, who appointed a public
defender in the case.
When the sealed indictment came down. Initially, state troopers didn't
want anyone to know about it. They came out to the Pilgrim property in
a helicopter to try to arrest him. They think that he fled when he saw
the helicopter arriving and they missed him by only minutes. The next
day, the blue camper van that was parked at the property disappeared.
Troopers believe Pilgrim came back Friday night after troopers left and
fled in the van.

Apparently Pilgrim spotted the troopers and slipped away into the woods.
Despite his distinctive appearance and only one road out of town, he
managed to leave the McCarthy area and elude capture for two weeks.

In court, Pilgrim told the judge in a soft Texas drawl that he had only
just found out that he was wanted by the law. "Well, actually, when I
found out I was wanted, I stopped the first trooper I saw and turned
myself in," he said.

State troopers told a different story, saying Pilgrim was arrested by an
Alaska Railroad special agent who spotted him on a road that dead-ends
at railroad property.

They said Pilgrim identified himself as Papa Pilgrim and did not resist
when stopped.

State troopers visited the Pilgrim property, serving a search warrant
and collecting evidence. Though the criminal indictment alleges the
abuse spanned eight years and involves only one daughter, it culminated
when authorities say Pilgrim locked his daughter in a shack on the
family property for several days.

"She tried to leave the cabin and the door was secured where she
couldn't leave for several days. Some of the other family members were
aware that she was in there, weren't really sure what was going on, but
heard suspicious sounds coming from the cabin and they were concerned
for her," said Trooper Derek DeGraaf, Alaska State Trooper investigator.

On that occasion, according to the indictment, Pilgrim sexually
assaulted her multiple times. It was shortly after that incident that
residents of the community say the older children, including the abuse
victim, fled McCarthy and eventually told their story to Alaska State
Pilgrim's wife, known as Country Rose, had apparently been trying to get
her husband to turn himself in. She eventually told him to leave just
days before the grand jury met, and reportedly asked local air taxi
pilot Gary Green not to bring him back to their upper McCarthy Creek
homestead where she and the smaller children had been living all summer.
In the meantime, the older of the children, 18 and over, had apparently
already made a decision to leave home.

The older sons are working for a hunting guide in the northern section
of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. The older daughters are staying
with a family in Palmer. The wife, Country Rose, is staying at the home
of a friend in Palmer about 14 miles from McCarthy with seven of the
youngest children.

Country Rose says the family is doing alright and would appreciate
everyone's prayers. We're sorry for the things that happened and hope
that God will help us through this, she said in a telephone interview
with Anchorage Daily News reporter Tom Kizzia. We haven't lost any sight
of God through all this. It's just that sometimes sin is hidden. She
declined to comment on the charges against her husband.

A number of McCarthy area residents have had conflicts with the
64-year-old patriarch and his older weapon carrying offspring, over the
past two years, but the grand jury indictment and eventual arrest came
as a shock.

Family members, though, said in a recent letter to the McCarthy
community that they plan to return to the area.
Meanwhile, state officials said they have opened a child protection
investigation covering the nine children in the family who are still

In McCarthy, people were still talking about a letter to the community
from the Pilgrim family, which was read aloud at the annual meeting of
the McCarthy Area Council, a quasi-governmental group.
The letter of apology begged forgiveness for the "pain and
misunderstandings" that the family had caused during their three years
in the remote settlement, saying they did not know what it meant to be a
good neighbor. They said they love the town and hope to remain. "We need
your help to be the people that we want to be, and though we don't
deserve it, we beg your patience and understanding. It took years for us
to become the people that we are, so we know that it will take some time
for us to adopt a manner of living that is truly acceptable before God
and man."

The letter was signed by Joseph, the family's oldest son, "For Mama and
the children."

The family said they hope to return in spring to run a visitor center
and a horseback riding concession and build a home on their land near
the Kennicott River. They would be spending the winter in Palmer, they
said, "trying to round out a bit of our educational needs." The letter
was read aloud by a local bed and breakfast owner who has stayed in
close touch with the family. He was shocked and believed he had been a
good friend to Papa Pilgrim. He said Thursday that the adult children
know they face a long, hard climb. "Basically, they've been in bondage
their whole adult lives," he said.

The letter got a hesitant but generally sympathetic reception in
McCarthy. "Some folks said they're trying to straighten themselves out,
give them a chance," said Ed LaChapelle, a retired glaciologist who
lives in the old mining town. Residents of McCarthy say while the family
appeared happy, they characterized their lifestyle as odd and they know
Pilgrim manipulated and exerted control over them.

Also present at the courtroom, was a commercial pilot and one-time
Pilgrim family supporter, Kurt Stenehjem, 54, of Anchorage. Stenehjem
spent a week living with Pilgrim and his clan in 2003 after the landing
gear on his Cessna 180 collapsed during efforts to airlift supplies to
the family's isolated property in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.

He said Pilgrim eventually precipitated an argument with him over one of
his daughters and evicted him from the remote family compound. He said
Pilgrim took him aside and accused him of having a romantic interest in
the woman, then 28, which Stenehjem said he did not.
Nevertheless, Pilgrim said Stenehjem would never be a husband fit enough
for a Pilgrim daughter,

Stenehjem said in the hallway after the hearing. He said he's planning a
book on his experience with the Pilgrim family. "I was kicked out of
heaven. They called it Hillbilly Heaven," Stenehjem said.
He told television cameras that, if true, the allegations against
Pilgrim answered lingering questions about his stay in Hillbilly Heaven,
among them how Pilgrim maintained his authority as patriarch over such a
large brood.

The family always presented a united front and operated with a smooth
division of labor. By contrast, smaller families have trouble deciding
who takes out the trash, he said.

by....Dixie Dea

Continued in Part 3.......

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