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 in 1971.