May 09, 2022

Native Hawaiians were some of the earliest immigrants to Utah

Iosepa residents in Tooele County pause to pose for a photograph while celebrating Pioneer Day (July 24) in 1914. Credit: Courtesy of the Utah State Historical Society
Iosepa residents in Tooele County pause to pose for a photograph while celebrating Pioneer Day (July 24) in 1914. Credit: Courtesy of the Utah State Historical Society|||| Iosepa residents in Tooele County pause to pose for a photograph while celebrating Pioneer Day (July 24) in 1914. Credit: Courtesy of the Utah State Historical Society|||| ||||
By Rachel Quist

The first Native Hawaiians to permanently settle in Utah arrived in 1872 as Latter-day Saint converts. Most Native Hawaiians settled in the Warm Springs neighborhood just west of Capitol Hill in Salt Lake City primarily between what is now 200 and 300 West Streets and Reed and Fern Avenues and 800 North between 300 and 400 West Streets.

John W. Kauleinamoku arrived in 1875 and was the first Native Hawaiian adult to settle in Utah, making him a de facto leader of the emerging Native Hawaiian community in Salt Lake. Kauleinamoku’s house was the most well-known and hosted funerals, gatherings, and religious services conducted in Native Hawaiian. Many other Native Hawaiian immigrants lived with Kauleinamoku and his family in his small adobe home at 754 N 300 West. The Kauleinamoku home was demolished around 2003 by the Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency (along with the Morrison Meat Pie factory) to facilitate construction of townhomes that now occupy the site.

Although many of the historic Native Hawaiian homes have been demolished, at least five homes of early Native Hawaiian settlers remain standing in the Capitol Hill neighborhood:

  1. Makaula House 249 W Reed Ave.
  2. Salamona Nui Kapiipiigm House 222 Fern Ave.
  3. Solomona & Raanaana Umi House 240 Fern Ave.
  4. A.H. Kapukini House 226 Fern Ave.
  5. Peter Kealakaihouna House 254 Fern Ave.

A slow trickle of Native Hawaiians immigrated to Salt Lake City in the 1870s and 1880s, each individual needing to receive permission from the King of Hawaii to leave the islands. But after 1887 many more Native Hawaiians were able to relocate to Salt Lake City due to the signing of the 1887 Bayonet Constitution, which abolished the previous law prohibiting the emigration of Native Hawaiian subjects from the islands without special permission. By 1889 about 75 Native Hawaiians had resettled to Salt Lake City. This sharp increase in the Native Hawaiian population between 1887 and 1889, along with other emerging ethnic neighborhoods, caused many Salt Lakers to take notice of the new arrivals.

Most of these early Native Hawaiians had a difficult experience in Salt Lake City, primarily stemming from racial prejudice and stereotypes of Pacific Islanders perpetuated by syndicated newspaper articles that described them as lazy, unclean, cannibals, practitioners of infanticide, and lepers. Work was difficult to come by.

Some of the early arrivals, like John W. Kauleinamoku, found employment as stonecutters to help build the Salt Lake Temple. But most found it difficult to find year-round employment and were usually only able to find work as general laborers.

In July 1900 the Salt Lake City Office of Health received an anonymous letter stating that one of the “Kanakas” living at the Kealakaihouna residence at 254 Fern Ave was infected with leprosy. The anonymous letter writer further complained that “that the habits of the family were such that they were a nuisance to the neighborhood.” When Dr. J. C. E. King conducted his medical investigation at the residence, he did not find evidence of leprosy or any other disease.

Another incident occurred in June 1889 when four Native Hawaiians living in Salt Lake City, headed by George W. Kamaka, applied for U.S. Citizenship. Citizenship had been granted to a handful of Native Hawaiian Salt Lakers in the previous years but this time the Utah Territorial Supreme Court determined that Native Hawaiians were Polynesian and part of the Malay race and therefore were not eligible for citizenship because of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Largely in response to this ruling, and the general racial prejudices in obtaining work, about 50 of the 75 Native Hawaiians in Salt Lake City relocated to the new Hawaiian settlement of Iosepa in August of 1889. The Skull Valley location for Iosepa was chosen over other potential properties in Utah, Weber, and Cache Counties as it was already a working ranch with livestock, fencing, water rights, a large fishpond, and an abundant supply of lumber from the Stansbury Mountains and a nearby sawmill.

Most of Utah’s Native Hawaiians lived in Iosepa until about 1917 when many chose to return to Hawaii in response to the building of a new Latter-day Saint temple on the island of O’ahu.

Published in Spring 2022