Iosepa, (with the I like an English Y) is a ghost town in Utah’s Skull Valley, located approximately 75 miles (120 km) southwest of Salt Lake City in Tooele County. Once home to over 200 Polynesian members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or “Mormons”), Iosepa was inhabited during the period 1889–1917. Today it is the site of an annual Memorial Day gathering that draws islanders and others from all over the Western United States.
Mormon missionaries were sent to Polynesia starting in the 1850s. Many of their converts wanted to emigrate or “gather” to Utah with the main body of the Church, but were restricted by law, particularly in Hawaii. In the 1870s the Hawaiian government began to allow emigration, and by 1889 some 75 Native Hawaiians had gathered in the North Salt Lake area. Despite their common faith, the immigrants experienced significant culture shock, as well as mistreatment by the white majority. The Polynesians were barred from staying in white-owned hotels and were refused service at restaurants in Salt Lake City. Church leaders began searching for a location to set aside as a Hawaiian enclave, but 40 years of settlement had occupied most of the desirable land in the Salt Lake area.
In 1889 a group of three Hawaiian converts and three returned missionaries was assigned to choose a location. After considering possibilities in Cache, Weber, and Utah counties, they selected a 1,920-acre site in Skull Valley, known as the Quincy Ranch or the Rich Ranch, as a gathering place for the South Sea Islanders. The colony was organized as a joint stock company, the Iosepa Agriculture and Stock Company, owned by the LDS Church. The first 46 settlers arrived at the new townsite on August 28, 1889 and drew lots for land. August 28 was later designated as Hawaiian Pioneer Day.
The name Iosepa, a Hawaiian form of Joseph, was chosen in honor of Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918), one of the first missionaries from the Church to serve the Hawaiian people, and also in honor of his uncle, Joseph Smith, Jr. (1805–1844), founder of the Church. The Iosepans’ main reason for coming to Utah was to be near the Salt Lake Temple. After it opened in 1893, they traveled there as frequently as possible to participate in religious ceremonies.