Native Hawaiians in Iosepa, Utah
Did you know a colony of over a hundred Hawaiian Mormons lived in Utah in the late 1800s and early 1900s? In 1889, they settled in Skull Valley 70 miles from Salt Lake City. The Hawaiians started the Mormon town Iosepa (“Yoseepa”), named after Mormon leader Joseph Smith. People around Iosepa usually called it “Kanaka Ranch.”
The Hawaiians moved here to be close to the temples and headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For their livelihood, the Hawaiians caught carps from the pond, planted crops, and eventually mined for gold in the nearby mountains. The Iosepa residents held conferences quarterly and celebrated their pioneer day yearly.
The Deseret Evening News reported Iosepa’s success in farming in 1894, despite the inhospitable desert land with extreme weathers and the people’s lack of farming experience. The bounty of crops included wheat, oat, barley, corn, potatoes, hay, squashes, pumpkins, and garden produce. Iosepa also planned to sell 150 swines.
Tension rose between the Hawaiians and people near Iosepa due to the fear of leprosy. In 1896, the colony had at least three cases of leprosy, which the local newspapers reported, often with a negative slant.
The Salt Lake Herald sent a reporter there. He describes resident Bessie Peter as ” the worst case in the settlement” and her leprosy symptoms in great detail. Accompanying illustrations show Bessie’s leg covered with infected sores and a “leprous hand” and a bandaged hand bandaged. The article’s subtitle described the Hawaiians as “unfortunate victims of this most revolting disease living together other seventy miles from Salt Lake City.”
Iosepa ceased as a community in 1917, when most of the residents moved to Laie, Hawaii, where a Latter Day Saint Temple was being built. A livestock company bought the land of Iosepa.
While the community may be gone, the cemetery still remains and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1971. Every Memorial Day weekend, descendents of the former residents, people of Polynesian descent, and other interested people in the nearby area go to the former Iosepa site to maintain the cemetery, celebrate the Polynesian cultures, and honor Iosepa’s pioneers.
– Alice Kim
Notes: Native Hawaiians worked on the Mainland in the 1800s. During the gold rush, Native Hawaiians searched for gold in California and Fraser Canyon. Hundreds of paniolo (cowboys) steered livestock in the U.S. Great Basin. Hawaiians in Washington and Oregon harvested sugar beets and apples. Hawaiian fur trappers working for the Hudson’s Bay Company in Canada intermarried with the First Nations people.
The Hawaiians’ legacy can be seen today in the places named with Hawaiian words. They include Kanaka (Hawaiian person), Owyhee (an old Hawaiian name for Hawaii), and Kamai (named after the Hawaiian Kama Kamai): the Kanaka Glade in Mendocino County, California; Kanaka Creek in Sierra County, California; Kanaka Bars in Trinity County, California; Kanaka Flats in Jacksonville, Oregon; Kanaka Gulch, Oregon; Owyhee River in southeastern Oregon; and Kamai Point, British Columbia.
“The Iosepa Colony: Crops Raised by Hawaiians There This Year”
Deseret evening news., December 22, 1894, Page 5, Image 5
“Among the Kanakas: A Visit to Their Colony–Celebration of Their Pioneer Day”
The Coalville times., September 06, 1895, Image 1
“Leprosy in the Kanaka Settlement: Unfortunate Victims of This Most Revolting Disease Living Together Only Seventy Miles from Salt Lake City”
The Salt Lake herald., June 20, 1896, Image 1
“Caused Great Comment: Herald’s Leprosy Story Discussed Very Extensively”
The Salt Lake herald., June 22, 1896, Page 8, Image 8
“Iosepa Conference: Hawaiian Saints and Missionaries Have an Enjoyable Gathering”
Deseret evening news., May 28, 1904, Last Edition, Page 2, Image 2
“Pioneer Day at Isosepa Colony: Prosporous and Thriving Condition of Utah’s Hawaiians in Tooele County”
Deseret evening news., August 28, 1907, Last Edition, Page 3, Image 3