Iosepa Agricultural and Stock Company
The Iosepa Agricultural and Stock Company was formed to provide income for the Hawaiians who came to Utah as part of the gathering of the Saints in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The community of Iosepa, named after beloved Church president Joseph F. Smith, was situated about seventy-five miles southwest of Salt Lake City, Utah, in Skull Valley, Tooele County. It was colonized on August 28, 1889, and existed as a home for the Polynesians until many of them returned to the Pacific Islands.
In 1844, the first missionaries of the Church were called to go to the Pacific Islands. In 1850, a group of ten elders, including George Q. Cannon were sent to the Hawaiian Islands. As the Hawaiians converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ, they wanted to gather to Zion, but leaving their islands was forbidden by their government. Instead, the Church leaders gathered the Saints to the island of Lanai first, and then later to Oahu, where the Church had purchased a large piece of land in 1865.
In 1867, Napela, a Hawaiian convert to the Church, received permission to visit Utah Territory. When he returned, he spoke favorably about Church headquarters, and the desire for many Hawaiian members to gather to Utah grew. As was often the case, missionaries returning from their service in the Hawaiian Islands brought Hawaiians with them as exceptions granted from the Hawaiian government. In about 1884, the Hawaiian government revoked the laws prohibiting emigration. By mid-1889, about 75 Polynesians had gathered in Salt Lake City.
Assimilation was difficult for the Polynesians. Finding work other than low-paying manual labor was difficult. The language and culture were foreign to them. Serving in the First Presidency at the time were George Q. Cannon and Joseph F. Smith, who had both served as missionaries in the Hawaiian Islands. President Smith had gone there at the young age of 15. Cannon began serving as first counselor in the First Presidency in 1880 and served until his death in April 1901. Smith served as second counselor from 1880 until October 1901 and then became Church president. Their love of the Hawaiians and a feeling of concern for them created a special relationship with the Hawaiian immigrants and the leadership of the Church. The First Presidency decided to obtain land for a colony where the Hawaiians could live and work together. After considering various areas, a committee of three men who had served as missionaries in the islands as well as three Polynesians selected land owned by John T. Rich in Skull Valley, Tooele County. There were many advantages to this property—including water, “an abundant crop growing and almost ready to be harvested, and a mild climate. There were also cheap and abundant supplies of fuel and fencing, building materials of easy access, teams, wagons, harnesses, farming implements, and cattle, horses, chickens, pigs, etc.” However, it was somewhat isolated.
“The Iosepa Agricultural and Stock Company, owned by the Church, held all the land and the livestock of the colony except the lots of the colonists, which had been purchased, and the teams or riding horses owned by individuals. The colonists received a daily or monthly wage from the company for their work. Necessities of life were purchased from the company or through its officials.” Eventually, the bookkeeping system was replaced by scrip for the colonists. The company would exchange scrip for cash when necessary, and eventually, cash replaced the scrip.
The first winter was hard for the Hawaiians, and some became homesick. Some yearned to return to the islands. The Hawaiian government provided funds for anyone who wanted to go back but could not afford tickets. The first eight Hawaiians arrived back in Hawaii on August 7, 1890. Not all who wished to return were living in Iosepa. In November 1890, ten adults and eleven children living in Salt Lake City wished to return to Hawaii.
In 1894, the Hawaiian government sent an agent to Iosepa who offered to pay return fare to the islands to anyone who wanted to go back. In April 1894 fifteen Hawaiians left for their native land. In August 1894 the Hawaiian consul in San Francisco offered free passage to Hawaii to all who would go. Some of the colonists felt this was a command from their government and they must obey. Others felt more allegiance to the Church. The First Presidency made it clear through an announcement that the Hawaiian Saints were not obligated to stay. Some of the Saints returned for extended stays, intending to return to Iosepa. In 1898 the Hawaiian Islands became a territory of the United States and travel was unrestricted. Although some of the Saints returned to Hawaii, a number also left the islands to come to Utah.
The Iosepa Agricultural and Stock Company began to break even financially after 1900. When needed, the Church made up the difference. By 1915, Iosepa “was on a firm economic foundation and was paying off financially. From then on the venture continued to make a profit until the colony was disbanded.”
- Conditions in Iosepa changed greatly during the twenty-eight years of its existence. When the original pioneers arrived and for a number of years thereafter, they had all been transplanted into an environment and life alien to that which they had known before. Many of the things they had been used to doing and eating were now unavailable to them. They had to be satisfied with many substitutes. The great redeeming factor to them was the fact that they were participating in the great gathering movement of their Church and were near a temple wherein sacred ordinances could be performed for themselves and their dead ancestors. Great sacrifices were made easier with their belief that they were obeying the will of the Lord.
- Many of Iosepa Hawaiians returned to the Islands for the same reason that the first ones migrated to Utah. They felt it was what their God wanted them to do. In 1915, President Joseph F. Smith, after returning from one of his frequent trips to the Hawaiian Islands, announced that the Church was going to build a temple at Laie, Oahu. When this was announced to the Hawaiians, some of them said simply that they were going back.”
The decision was left up to the individuals. The Church paid transportation expenses for any of the colonists who could not afford tickets.
None of the Hawaiian colonists remained to harvest the 1917 summer crops. In the fall, the ranch and townsite were sold to the Deseret Livestock Company for $150,000. Many of the buildings were moved elsewhere and others were demolished. The original cemetery remains and is cared for.
Some Polynesians return to the original site for Memorial Day weekend reunions.