Iosepa residents on Pioneer Day, c. 1914
Iosepa was established in Tooele County's Skull Valley in 1889 as a
community for Hawaiian members of the Mormon faith who wished to immigrate
to Utah to be close to the temples and headquarters of the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints. Iosepa lasted as a community until 1917 at
which time the residents returned to Hawaii where the Hawaiian LDS Temple
was under construction. The LDS Church paid the travel expenses for those
who could not afford to pay themselves.
"Iosepa," meaning Joseph in Hawaiian and named for the Mormon
prophet Joseph Smith and for Joseph F. Smith, who went to the Hawaiian Islands
as a missionary in 1854, is pronounced "Yo-see-pa." The colony
was undertaken as a joint stock company incorporated as the Iosepa Agriculture
and Stock Company. The LDS Church actually owned the company although individuals
subscribed for the stock and held it in trust for the church. H.H. Cluff
was president of the corporation and manager and superintendent of the colonizing
company. I.W. Kauleinamoku was the leader of the Hawaiian Saints. The land
was dedicated by LDS Church President Wilford Woodruff on 28 August 1890,
one year after colonization, as a gathering place for the natives of the
islands of the sea.
The first group of forty-six settlers arrived on 28 August 1889 and drew
lots for the land they were to occupy. Additional settlers arrived, built
houses, a schoolhouse, a general store, and an irrigation system which drew
water from the Stansbury Mountains to water a variety of crops including
lucern, beets, wheat, oats, barley, corn, potatoes, and squash. By 1901
the population stood at about 80 and reached 228 by 1915.
A majority of the residents were Hawaiians, but other island groups were
represented as well. The Polynesians raised pigs and fished for the carp
that grew in the ponds of the vicinity to add to the crops they grew. A
few Anglos resided in the town, working as supervisors on the Skull Valley
farm. Most residents worked small farms or were employed by the Mormon Church
farm in Skull Valley. The colony was not self-sustaining and LDS Church
leaders were forced to allocate church funds to cover expenses. Following
a series of crop failures, many of the men began to work in the gold and
silver mines which prospered in the nearby mountains during the late 1890s.
In addition to economic difficulties, there were other problems for the
settlement. In 1896 three cases of leprosy were discovered and the victims
were isolated in a special house, although fears of the spread of leprosy
were unfounded. The harsh environment--burning heat in the summer and extreme
cold in the winter--took its toll on the settlers, as witnessed by the large
number of graves in the cemetery.
When the Hawaiian Mormons left Iosepa for Hawaii, many of them settled on
the church plantation at Laie, Oahu. Iosepa was sold in 1917 to a livestock
company. The cemetery was placed on the National Register of Historic Places
See: Leonard J. Arrington, "The L.D.S. Hawaiian Colony at Skull Valley,"
The Improvement Era (May 1954); Lambert Florin, Ghost Town Trails
(1963); Wallace Stegner, Mormon Country (1942).
David L. Schirer