He called him Papa Pilgrim. He took his family far away from civilization, in the wilds of Alaska in the US, saying he wanted to rear them according to his own interpretation of the Bible.
But on Tuesday he was sentenced to 14 years in prison for sexually abusing his daughter.
The pilgrim's wife and many of their 15 children delivered statements that included intense stories of physical and mental abuse. Judge Donald Hopwood called it "one of the worst cases of domestic violence I've seen."
The Pilgrim's huge retinue came to prominence during a feud with the National Park Service after family members used a bulldozer without permission to clear a road in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, news agency AP reports.
Land rights advocates rallied to their cause, and stories featured their plight as a case of big government versus simple folks loving music, fearing God and living off the land.
But that rustic image was a facade, wife of the Pilgrim, Robert Hale, testified during his sentencing hearing. Ross Hale and many of the couple's children asked Hopwood to send the patriarch to prison to a long time because they feared what would happen if he were released.
Hopwood sentenced Hale to 10 years in prison for sexual assault and two years each for incest and coercion.
Hale, 66, spent much of Tuesday on the stand, denying charges of sexual and physical abuse leveled against him by family members. Hopwood said he simply didn't believe Hale's denials because so many witnesses testified consistently.
Hale had been indicted on 30 counts of rape, incest, coercion, kidnapping and assault for crimes against one of his daughters, committed between 1998 and 2005.
On the eve of his trial last December, Hale pleaded no contest to the three counts in exchange for a sentence of 14 years. But he later tried to withdraw the plea. He said he had made a mistake because he had been sick in jail, on medications and was not well-represented by his public defender.
Last month, in a hearing to decide on his change of plea, Hale changed his mind again and returned to a no-contest plea.
Hale insisted that he had a perfect spiritual understanding, his wife, Kurina Rose Hale, testified Monday.
"This is how he justified all his immoral activity," she said.
Hale was accused of persuading one child that she was a "special kind of daughter" and that she must have sex with him.
Finally Hale locked his daughter in a shed for three days, sexually assaulted her and beat her so badly her face looked like a black and blue basketball, according to another daughter's testimony.
Another daughter and the abuse victim left the family grounds to notify authorities.
Hale ran from law enforcers for two weeks before he was taken into custody.
Other children testified of prolonged beatings at the hands of the family patriarch, including boys being stretched out over a "beating barrel" and lashed with a three-cord riding crop.