You would wonder in a case like this what the autopsy would have revealed as the time of death....
This is rich.
Road Leads to Alaska-Size Standoff
It's Hillbilly Heaven vs. Park Service
By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 28, 2003; Page A01
WRANGELL-ST. ELIAS NATIONAL PARK, Alaska -- Psalms sat on Papa Pilgrim's right knee and Lamb perched on his left. Thirteen more of his children -- all of them with names from the Bible, several of them packing pistols -- crowded around. So did his exhausted-looking wife, Country Rose.
It was a late summer's evening in Hillbilly Heaven, a 410-acre ranch in the high country of eastern Alaska. Outside, the temperature dipped below freezing and the encircling mountains had a fresh dusting of snow. Inside the family cabin, potato soup was steaming on the stove and apple pies bubbled in a wood-burning oven. Supper, though, was on hold.
Papa was talking about the abuses heaped upon his family by the National Park Service. His children and wife listened in worshipful silence. No one dared eat.
Pilgrim, 62, whose legal name is Robert Allan Hale and whose past in the U.S. Southwest is as fairy-tale strange as his present in the Alaskan outback, explained how it came to pass last winter that he drove a bulldozer 14 miles across the national park that encircles his land. The Lord, Pilgrim said, told him that clearing a derelict mining road through the park was a loving thing to do.
"In order for me to love my children, I have to be a provider," Pilgrim said. "With great reluctance, I took the bulldozer and used the road. I had no idea what was in store."
Pilgrim's passage on the Caterpillar D4 has resulted in an edgy standoff between his well-armed family and the federal government. The National Park Service has shut down the bulldozed road to his property, dispatched armed rangers to assess park damage and is pursuing criminal and civil cases against him and members of his family.
The brouhaha over the bulldozer -- a drama still unfolding inside the largest U.S. park -- has made the Pilgrims actors in a national dispute over private access to federal land. National environmental groups are demanding that the Park Service prosecute the Pilgrims to the fullest extent of the law, while land-rights activists have embraced them as heroic victims of overzealous federal bureaucrats.
Papa Pilgrim seems to relish the mismatch between the National Park Service, with its helicopters and bulletproof vests, and his "simple family that never knew anything but how to live in the wilderness."
"If the government doesn't let us use that road with a bulldozer, then all they are trying to do is starve us out," Pilgrim said. "It is like the Alamo."
Park Service officials say the last thing they want is violence and that they are worried about another Ruby Ridge standoff or another Waco. They are determined, they say, not to use force in a way that would lead to bloodshed or embarrassing media coverage.
"Our challenge is to avoid confrontation," said Gary Candelaria, superintendent of Wrangell-St. Elias, which is six times larger than Yellowstone National Park. Still, Park Service rangers admit that they are fed up with the Pilgrims, especially with the boys who carry revolvers and rifles.
"What they tend to do is surround you," said Hunter Sharp, chief ranger in the park. "When they do that, cops get nervous. We have had it. We are not going to back off. We represent the people of the United States."
Bulldozing a Right of Way
In a sense, Pilgrim drove the bulldozer through a bureaucratic gap opened by the Bush administration. Over objections from environmentalists, the Interior Department published a rule in January that opened federal land to motorized access in places where roads once existed.
The rule -- a reassertion of an obscure 1866 mining law known as RS-2477 -- has since inspired right-of-way claims on old roads across federal land in the red rock country of southern Utah and across the Mojave National Preserve in California.
Alaska, though, is where the big claims are.
The old mining road that Pilgrim cleared with the bulldozer appears on a list of routes that the state of Alaska could claim as a right of way.
Pilgrim, though, fired up his bulldozer before the state made a claim to that road or any road in a national park in Alaska. Neither the Bush administration nor Gov. Frank H. Murkowski ®, who is a champion of opening rights of way to create jobs, has since said anything supportive of Pilgrim's vigilante romp.
Land-rights activists, however, see the Pilgrim case as a public relations windfall.
"We are going to make the Pilgrims poster children for abuse of federal power," said Chuck Cushman, executive director of the American Land Rights Association, a group based in Washington state that supports claims of private landowners in disputes with federal agencies.
"This is a good family that simply does not know how to deal with bureaucracy," said Cushman, whose group is helping Pilgrim pay for a lawyer and is publicizing his legal problems on its Web site. "They did notknowingly break the law. You have to look into people's hearts."
Environmental groups have been watching the Pilgrims in pained disbelief.
"You just can't take the law into your hands with a bulldozer," said Jim Stratton, Alaska regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association, a nonprofit advocacy group that monitors the parks. "What I am most afraid of is other people who share the Pilgrims' outlook on federal and state law and who are watching this case."
For most of the past year, the Park Service has been playing a careful game of cat-and-mouse with the Pilgrims.
Both sides seem media savvy. When they encounter each other, park rangers and the Pilgrims monitor each other with video cameras.
After months of negotiations, Candelaria, the park superintendent, said he has become convinced that "the Pilgrims are not what they appear." The family wears homemade clothes, tans its own leather, never watches TV and reads only the Bible. "They will give you this simple, homespun, Christian, living-off-the-land act," he said. "But it doesn't ring true."
A Checkered Past
Robert Hale grew up in affluent circumstances in Fort Worth, Tex.
His father was I.B. Hale, an All-American tackle at Texas Christian who in 1939 was the first-round draft pick of the Washington Redskins. I.B. became an FBI agent and later worked for General Dynamics, the defense contractor in Fort Worth.
When he was still in high school, Bobby Hale, as everyone called him then, eloped to Florida with Kathleen Connally. She was 16 and the daughter of John B. Connally, later to become the Texas governor wounded in the assassassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Shortly after the elopement in 1958, Kathleen died of a gunshot wound. A Florida deputy sheriff told Connally, as he wrote in his autobiography, "there may have been a suicide pact, and Bobby backed out."
Asked about Connally's book, Pilgrim denied any suicide pact and said Kathleen's death was an accident. He said he was in the hotel room when she died, but declined to give details about how she supposedly fired a shotgun into her face.
Five years after Kathleen's death, Bobby turned up in Southern California and insinuated himself into the life of another well-known figure from the Kennedy era, according to Seymour M. Hersh's book "The Dark Side of Camelot."
Citing unreleased FBI documents, Hersh writes that Bobby joined his twin brother, Billy, in breaking into the Los Angeles apartment of Judith Exner, a woman who later acknowledged having an affair with Kennedy. An FBI agent observed the break-in on Aug. 7, 1962, but made no attempt to arrest the Hale brothers, according to Hersh.
In the book, Hersh speculates that the break-in was part of a successful attempt by the Hales' father, I.B., then chief of security at General Dynamics, to blackmail Kennedy into giving the company a major defense contract.
"That is ridiculous," said Pilgrim, when asked about the Hersh book. "I wasn't there, and neither was my brother. Mr. Hersh is a liar."
Through the 1960s and into the '70s, Bobby Hale called himself "Sunstar." He lived in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, worked on a commune in Oregon and says that he "rode a horse across South America on my quest to find the answer."
While camping out in the Southern California desert, he met Kurina Rose Bresler, a 16-year-old from suburban Los Angeles. She would become the mother of the 15 children now living with him in Alaska. (Pilgrim has three other children from two previous marriages.) "My daughter was running around with friends, and they were into drugs at the time -- that's when she met Bobby," said Kurina's mother, Betty Freeman, an actress and singer who lives in Sherman Oaks, Calif. She is married to producer Joel Freeman, whose movies include "Shaft."