Utah History to Go
UTAH STATE HISTORY
HOME
FACTS
LESSONS
PEOPLE
PLACES
SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
TIMELINE
BIBLIOGRAPHY
CONTACT US
SITE MAP
HISTORY FOR KIDS
A Bit of Polynesia Remains in the Salt Desert
Lesson
Change and Creativity
Struggle for Statehood
Struggle for Statehood Chronology
In 1895 Utahns Wondered When Statehood Would Come
A State is Born
Party Politics and Utah Statehood
The Constitutional Convention is Called
Constitution Was Framed in City and County Building
African American Community and Politics, 1890-1910
The Broad Ax and the Plain Dealer Kept Utah's African Americans Informed
Clarence E. Allen Was Utah's First Congressman
How Utah Lost One of Its U.S. Senate Seats in 1899
Salt Lake Native Was Interred in the Kremlin Wall
The Shooting of Arthur Brown, Ex-Senator From Utah
Convict Labor Helped to Build Utah's Road
Strawberry Valley, 1st Federal Reclamation Project
Women's Suffrage in Utah
Woman Suffrage Dominated Politics in Utah
Kanab Residents Chose Women to Run Their Town, 1912
Ruth May Fox, Forgotten Suffragist
Soren Hanson's "House That Eggs Built"
Utah Arts Council
Utah State Historical Society
The Beginning of Public Support For Libraries
The Pasta King of the Mountain West
Celebrating the New Year in Salt Lake's Chinatown
Electrifying Utah-Engineer Lucien L. Nunn
A Brewer-Sportsman's Prairie Style Home in Ogden
Saltair
Saltair Village Was a Unique Place to Live
Boxing Fans Take the Plunge at Saltair
Castilla Hot Springs Attracted Many Visitors
Minstrel Shows
Utah State Capitol
Utah in the Spanish American War
Captain Richard W. Young and Spanish-American War
A Soldier's Life at Fort Douglas in the Early 1900's
Methodist Women Missionaries Worked Hard in Utah
Flour Mills
Guano Sifters on Gunnison Island
The Lehi Beet Sugar Factory
The Salt Industry Was One of the First Enterprises
From Free Salt to a Major Industry
Hospitals and Health Crazes in the Late 1800's
The Myths and Legends of Butch Cassidy
Butch Cassidy
Would the New State of Utah Go Metric?
A Look at Working Women in the Early 20th Century
Jobs in 1900
Explosion of Pleasant Valley Coal Company
The Lucin Cutoff
Southern Utah's First High School
Life Was Precarious in Turn-of-the-Century Utah
Salt Lake City Had Its Typhoid Mary
Vaccinations in Wasatch County
Promoting Physical Fitness
Woman's Home Association Tried to Help the "Fallen"
Juvenile Delinquency Posed Problems For Utahns
Traveling Gypsies Brought an Exotic Lifestyle to Utah
The First Large Factory in Utah
The Rise and Fall of Ogden's Packing Industry
Newsboys Claimed Their Street Corners in Downtown
The Bamberger Electric Railway
The First Cars in Two Small Towns
A Bicyclist Challenges the Great Salt Lake Desert
Daredevils of the Sky-Early Aeronauts in Utah
Ogden Defeats Salt Lake City in a War of the Wheels
Utah's Immigrants at the Turn of the Century
Boys' Potato Growing Clubs
Joe Hill and the I.W.W.
Socialist Women and Joe Hill
A Bit of Polynesia Remains
Justice Zane and Antipolygamy
The Salt Lake Valley Smelter War

W. Paul Reeve
History Blazer, May 1995

About 75 miles southwest of Salt Lake City in the semi barren expanse of Skull Valley the bronze bust of a Polynesian warrior rises as an anomaly out of the eastern fringe of the Salt Desert. The bust and the nearby cemetery are the only reminders of an even greater anomaly from Utah's past--a colony of immigrants from Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa, and New Zealand scratching out an existence in the Utah desert at the turn of the century.

Iosepa, (pronounced Yo-SEH-pa) the Hawaiian word for Joseph, was founded in August 1889 under the direction of then Mormon apostle Joseph F. Smith. The town's colonizers were devout converts to the Mormon faith who came to Utah in order to build Zion and worship in the soon to be completed Salt Lake Temple. Certainly these tropical Polynesians were out of their element in the bone-dry desert of Utah and battled to adapt to the new climate, new language, and new foods, but in time they prospered and even made Skull Valley appear hospitable. On Arbor Day in 1899 they planted over 700 trees and shrubs, and during the initial stages of settlement residents installed a village water system, channeled a small stream from the Stansbury Mountains for irrigation, and developed a few natural springs to water their cattle. From their cooperative farming efforts they raised barley, hay, and livestock, with proceeds totaling near $20,000 in 1914. More important to the pious colonists, however, were their 77-mile treks to Salt Lake City. They made the pilgrimage as often as possible to worship in the temple, which remained their primary motivation for staying in Utah.

At its peak in 1916 Iosepa was home to 228 inhabitants, but despite its remarkable successes the colony was also plagued with hardships. The Polynesian settlers were not accustomed to the harsh Utah climate; they baked in the dry desert summers and shivered in the cold white winters. Such challenges took their toll, and at times it seemed that the cemetery grew faster than the town. A small outbreak of leprosy in the mid-1890s added to Iosepa's difficulties. In all, only three colonists contracted the feared disease, but they were kept isolated from the rest of the residents in a barren shack well separated from town. The afflicted hoisted a flag on the pole outside their house when they needed provisions, and in this way the town cared for the lepers until they died.

In 1916 the Mormon church's announcement of construction of a temple in Hawaii started a return migration among Iosepa's colonists back to their homeland.  Despite their difficult life in Skull Valley it was a mournful departure for most of Iosepa's citizens. In a show of solidarity Utah's Hawaiian residents cried and sang as they walked to the train depot 14 miles distant. By January 1917 Iosepa was largely a ghost town, and over time the desert winds and desolation reclaimed the Polynesian village.  Seventy-nine graves were the only lasting physical tribute to the colonists until their descendants and the Mormon church dedicated a monument in their honor in August 1989.

Iosepa residents

Iosepa residents celebrating Pioneer Day, 1914

Sources: Deseret News, August 27, 29, September 2, 1989, May 29, 1994; Salt Lake Tribune, February 24, 1952; Tracey E. Panek, "Life at Iosepa, Utah's Polynesian Colony," Utah Historical Quarterly 60 (1992).

 

UTAH CHAPTERS
The Land
American Indians
Trappers, Traders, & Explorers
Pioneers & Cowboys
Mining & Railroads
Statehood & the Progressive Era
From War to War
Utah Today