Fifteen years after her father's arrest for abusing her, Elishaba Doerksen is ready to tell her side of an amazing story.
I'm the oldest of fifteen children born to ex-hippies Papa Pilgrim and Country Rose. I grew up in a dilapidated 340-square-foot log cabin in the mountains of New Mexico, isolated from civilization by a fundamentalist father intent on keeping his large family isolated from a godless world.
When I was nineteen, my father began molesting me in unimaginable ways as well as hitting me—and my siblings—when he judged us to be “rebellious.”
The horrific sexual and physical abuse continued after our family moved to an isolated valley in the Alaskan wilderness.
After ten years of the worst sexual mistreatment and beatings, I gathered my courage to make a run for it on
a snow machine. What happened during and after my dramatic escape is the basis for my incredible story about perseverance, faith, and redemption in my book, "Out of the Wilderness," which releases in the fall of 2021.
This is the first time that I have told my side of a story that garnered national attention with major stories in the Washington Post, NPR, and Outside magazine, as well as a huge buzz on social media.
I needed time to heal, but now I'm ready to tell the world what it was like living with Papa Pilgrim—and how I overcame some of the worst sexual abuse a daughter can experience at the hands of a father.
I was born Butterfly Sunstar, the name given to me by my hippie parents, Firefly and Sunlight Sunstar, who were born Robert Hale and Kurina Bresler. I spent the first few years of my life in a commune outside of the high desert community of Victorville, California.
During a road trip to see family in Texas, my long-haired, bearded father “got religion” and became a fervent believer. He started calling himself “Papa Pilgrim”—an ode to the book he often read to me and my siblings called Pilgrim’s Progress, written by John Bunyan and released in 1678. Here he's pictured with my mother, Kurina.
Sure that the end of the world was at hand, Papa moved the family to the Pecos Mountains of central New Mexico. Life was difficult off the grid: our family lived at the 9,000-foot level in a rundown cabin that he built. There was no electricity, no running water, and no heat, save for the wood stoves that helped the family survive the freezing cold during the winter. My mother, now called Country Rose, continued delivering babies until fifteen were born.
While living in New Mexico, I received a new “Christian” name from my father: Elizabeth. As the oldest child—and a daughter followed by six brothers—I was like a second mother, helping my mother raise the other children. Days were spent doing chores that needed to be done to survive in such a primitive environment: chopping wood; cooking on top of a wood-fired stove; grinding corn into tortillas; hunting game for food; hauling water into the cabin; dumping the contents of a camper toilet into a latrine pit; and
tidying up around the kitchen.
I never went to school growing up and barely learned how to read. During this time, my name was changed for a second time by Papa to “Elishaba.” Here I'm spinning wool from the sheep we sheared.
When I was nineteen, my father began pushing me into a sexual relationship by twisting Scripture. He referred time and again to
1 Corinthians 7:36-37 with a bizarre interpretation that a
father can “keep his own virgin.” In my father’s demented mind, that meant he could “keep” me as his sexual plaything. Papa used his parental authority to cross a line that no father should ever cross with his daughter.
After a move to a remote valley in Alaska, I always slept in the same bed with my father, mother, and one or two younger siblings. As if the sexual abuse wasn’t enough, Papa regularly beat me with his fists when I crossed him or didn’t immediately obey his commands. These were not slaps and pulled punches to the shoulder: these were full-on blows with clenched fists to my head that left black and blue bruises—and were the cause of numerous concussions, as I would later learn. My younger brothers also felt the wrath of his knuckles.
Ever the dutiful daughter, but confused between what I read in the Bible and the reality of my abusive relationship with my father, it wasn’t until I attempted a daring late-winter escape on a snow machine at the age of twenty-nine that things started to change.
There is much more to my story, which is inspirational and redemptive. In my book, "Out of the Wilderness," I describe how I relied on God, my brothers and sisters, and another wonderful Christian family to see me through.