By Rick Kenyon Robert Allen Hale, AKA Papa Pilgrim, is in jail. His accusers are not the National Park Service, but rather his own family. Indicted by a Palmer grand jury on 30 felony charges including sexual assault, kidnapping and incest, the future for the high-profile McCarthy area resident looks bleak.
WSEN readers are familiar with the Pilgrim family who became internationally known after the NPS closed the old mining road which was the only land access to the family’s property some 14 miles from McCarthy.
A number of McCarthy area residents have had conflicts with the 64-year-old patriarch over the past two years, but the grand jury indictment and eventual arrest came as a shock. Area residents first became aware there was something terribly wrong when an Alaska State Trooper helicopter flew to McCarthy on September 23 to arrest him. Apparently Hale 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.
Hale’s wife, Kurina Hale, better known to locals 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.
“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.”
The Hale family first came to McCarthy in January of 2002. After an aborted attempt to drive to Kennicott in the deep snow, they put on an impromptu Blue Grass concert at the McCarthy Lodge for a dozen or so winter residents. It wasn’t long before the Pilgrims purchased the old Mother Lode Mine property at the end of the McCarthy-Green Butte Road. It also wasn’t long before “Papa” appeared on the radar screen of the NPS when he wrote a WSEN Letter to the Editor. The subject was access— not to their own property, but the footbridge across the Kennicott River. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park Superintendent Gary Candelaria had flown to Juneau to lobby the state on behalf of putting in “bollards” to block ATV access to McCarthy and Kennicott. Pilgrim’s letter was one of several written by area residents, taking the superintendent to task for working against the best interests of the two communities by limiting access to them. The access issue would later come back to haunt him and his whole family.
From the beginning it was obvious that Pilgrim was outspoken in his faith. Area Christians were glad to have such a large family of believers come to the neighborhood. Some thought the local church would get quite a boost from 17 new members. But all invitations to attend were quietly rejected.
However, it was apparent that Papa ruled the family with his strict interpretation of the Scriptures. The girls wore dresses—pants were considered “men’s clothes.” They were not to shake hands and all of the children were required to travel in pairs, never alone.
What seemed to be absent from his doctrine was the command to love one’s enemies. Pilgrim seemed to almost welcome persecution, apparently seeing it as a mark of divine approval. Even close friends and supporters were treated as bitter enemies if they dared disagree with him.
On February 13, 2003, the Park Service acted to deny access to the Pilgrim’s Mother Lode property. Rangers told locals that they could use the road for “subsistence”, even with ATV’s, but the family could not use an ATV or other motorized vehicle to access their home. The action outraged the McCarthy community who came to the aid of the family and launched a battle with the NPS that is still unresolved.
It also brought international attention to the Pilgrim family. While media such as World Net Daily did a series highlighting the access issue, the Washington Post published an article spotlighting the admittedly unusual past of the family patriarch. The Anchorage Daily News took up the cause with a series of articles called “Papa’s Passage.”
As our readers will recall, WSEN published many articles about the family, written by a number of reporters who are also neighbors and knew or interviewed the family. WSEN also strongly supported, and still strongly asserts, the validity of the family’s right to access their home—to Hillbilly Heaven, a term the family gave to their mountain property. But, unknown to us, their heaven was becoming anything but.
Pilgrim grew up in Dallas, the son of I.B. Hale, a two-time All-American tackle who was ranked among the very best of many great players during Texas Christian University’s most triumphant football era. (He was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 1985.)
A first-round draft pick for the Washington Redskins in 1939, the elder Hale instead chose a career in law enforcement. He became a top agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Fort Worth and a close associate of FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover.
Later he became chief of security for General Dynamics, the giant military contractor. He was chairman of ASIS International, a professional association of private security firms, when he died of a heart attack in 1971.
The Pilgrim children speak of Grandpa Hale in almost reverent terms, telling of his football accomplishments and of his expertise in training other FBI agents in the use of firearms.
In 1958, at age 17, Robert eloped to Florida with the teenage daughter of John Connally, the future governor of Texas who rose to national attention when he was wounded by gunfire when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. According to family members, Grandpa Hale was riding in the car behind Kennedy and Connally on that tragic day.