Koolau the Leper and the Kalalau Valley Rebellion

File:Kaluaikoolau and family.jpgIf your spouse had an incurable, contagious disease and was forced into exile, would you hide with him or her with your child? That's what Piilani did for her husband Kaluaikoolau, commonly known as "Koolau the Leper."

In the mid-1860s, during Hawaii's leprosy epidemic, the Hawaiian government quarantined and exiled leprosy victims to Kalaupapa, Molokai for life. Most of them had Native Hawaiian ancestry.

In 1893, an isolated colony of leprosy victims instead lived in Kalalau Valley, Kauai and were for mostly ignored instead of facing quarantine..

After the overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy in January 1893, the newly formed Provisional Government increased its enforcement of the 1865 "Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy."

On June 24, 1893, under the orders of Attorney General and President of the Board of Health William Owen Smith, after two days of planning, deputy sheriff Louis H. Stolza and policemen went into Kalalau Valley to send the leprosy victims to Kalaupapa. But, as the Hawaiian Gazette reported, "... instead of the kind and quiet lepers he saw on his previous visit, he now found them entirely changed. They would not leave Kalalau."

Koolau led the leprosy victims to drive the law enforcement out to the coast. The next day, Koolau wanted to drive them out of the valley.

However, Stolza arrested Paoa, put him in handcuffs, and pointed his gun at Kala, Koolau's friend. Here was how the Hawaiian Gazette reported the event:

"Paoa knew that Koolau was after Stolz's life, and so he persuaded the sheriff to go with him to Koolau's house, which was a mile further down towards the beach. Stolz made no objection to the request and they came down at about 8 o'clock, Stolz carrying Paoa's rifle. On the way down Stolz saw a dark object hiding behind a rock and called out to him. Scarcely had the words left his lips when he was struck in the breast by a rifle bullet and fell down dead. A second shot was fired after he fell. The murderer turned out to be ... Koolau ..."

Alternatively, The Daily Bulletin says Koolau's friends said Koolau shot and killed Stolz to save Paoa. They also said that Stolz broke his promise of coming back in the last week of July by coming back in the third week of June instead. Here's Koolau's friends' version of the story:

"Stolz marched Paoa down on foot, while Kapahee rode down to the beach on Paoa's horse. Nearing the beach Stolz saw a man standing by a house and asked Paoa who he was. Paoa replied that it was Kala. Kala hearing them sang out, 'Who is that?' Paoa answered  that it was Stolz and himself. Kala then ran, accompanied by Iwa ... Stolz sang out to Kala to stop, but the latter continued to run. Stolz then pushed Paoa down on a slab of stone and raised his rifle to his shoulder. Just as his rifle was in line, Koolau's rifle cracked and the bullet entered Stolz's stomach. Koolau was in a dent behind Kala. Koolau sang out to Paoa asking if Stolz was dead, and was answered that he was not. A second shot was then heard. ... If Stolz had not been hit by Koolau, Kala would have been shot."

After the fight, the steamer Waialeale went to Kalalau Valley and brought back 15 people with leprosy, and a proclamation ordered the other leprosy victims to surrender in 48 hours:.

"The proclamation declaring martial law was distributed by natives throughout the valley, and the lepers were given forty eight hours in which to surrender, or be shot on sight. Many of them came in of their own accord ... Although the Waialeale brought over fifteen lepers, mostly women and children, who have been transferred to the receiving station at Kalihi. Luther Wilcox, Kunuiakea, and another, previously had a conference with these lepers, which led to their surrender, during which it was stated there were eight lepers, including Koolau, who had sworn not to be taken alive."

Those who surrendered stated their food supply was very low, so there was a chance of starving Koolau out. The authorities went to the Kalalau Valley again, this time using Koolau's sister to lure the bandit out:

"The woman went near the place and began calling to Koolau, saying that it was his sister that addressed him, and not to shoot, adding that they belonged to the same father and mother, and to let her go up to him. Receiving no reply she climbed up the trail, and found no one in the cave. She examined the place and found a pair of pants, a boy's cotton shirt, an eel, and a few shells lying on the slab of stone whence Koolau had done the shooting.

"The party then went up, and sure enough the place was deserted, and there were no signs of a trail of any kind. The bandit had escaped without leaving any tracks. ... The conclusion was arrived that he had escaped overhead. The cliffs above were a dense mass of brush and ti leaves, and it was decidedly impracticable for anybody to pursue the fugitive."

Koolau and his cohorts kept running from the authorities and refused to surrender, even if doing so meant death:

"Koolau, the leper murderer, accompanied by ... four men, two women, and one child, have retreated up the side of a steep valley, where they are hiding, and declare they will make a stand if followed up by the troops. Koolau told a leper spy that they could escape over a trail known only to the lepers provided they could reach it; otherwise they would fight to the last and then kill themselves before they would surrender. On July 5 orders were forwarded by the steamer Iwalani to bring the lepers in dead or alive."

A few years later, The Pacific Commercial Advertiser (predecessor to The Honolulu Advertiser) reported a relative of Koolau claimed the bandit was dead. His death was confirmed, when Deputy Sheriff Coney found Koolau's grave near the leprosy victims' stronghold at the top of Kalalau Valley. The stronghold had empty opihi shells, but no clothes or cooking utensils.

Coney searched for the grave in the midst of the thick growth of ti leaves and other tropical growths when he encountered a spot of ferns. Then, the officers started digging, with dirt being thrown left and right. A foot and a half down, they struck something hard and found a couple of rough boards:

"Removing these they found a body, the lower part of which was wrapped in a coarse gray blanket, and the upper part in an old oilskin raincoat,  thrown completely over the head and buttoned in the back. These wrappings were torn off, and there lay disclosed the body of Koolau, with his hands folded over the barrel of his trusty Mauser rifle, the stock of which was resting on his chest. At his side lay a tin, in which was a hand satchel ... , filled with cartridges of 45.75 and 44 caliber, for rifles, and 38 caliber, for the brigand's revolver. "

However, Piilani said that report of finding the grave was not true, and that she visited his grave many times, never disturbing it. Two years after her death, The Garden Island published a series of Piilani's story. The writer described Piilani's demeanor during the interviews:

"Piilani was of a very quiet and reticent nature and to get her to talk about her husband, his doings, and their wanderings ... was rather difficult. She never spoke of Koolau in an exulting manner but acted always as if she had a secret fear of being called to answer for her actions in staying by her husband and assisting him in his outlaw life."

External Links

"'Battle of Kalakau,' as Reported in the Newspaper Kuokoa"

Novelist Jack London's "Koolau the Leper" (short story)

Search Strategy

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Articles on Chronicling America

"From Kalalau: Two Lepers Arrested at the Waimea Pass: The Murderer Drives Them Out"
The Hawaiian gazette., July 04, 1893, Page 9, Image 9

“Killed by a Leper: Sheriff Stolz Shot at Kalalau”
The Hawaiian gazette., July 04, 1893, Page 11, Image 11

"From Kalalau Valley: The Waialeale Brings News of the Expedition"
The Hawaiian star, July 05, 1893, Page 5, Image 5

“At Bay: Koolau and his Backers Will Make a Stand”
The Hawaiian gazette, July 11, 1893, Page 8, Image 8

“They All Come Back: The Troops Return from Kalalau without Koolau: He Has Escaped over the Dizzy Mountain Top”
The Daily bulletin, July 13, 1893, Image 2

"The Soldiers Return: The Leper Expedition at en End: Koolau Escapes Over the Mountains and Leaves No Trace of His Whereabouts"
The Hawaiian star., July 13, 1893, Page 5, Image 5

"Out for Lepers: Success of a Well-Armed Expedition: Hawaii's Latest Sensation: Minister Blount Throws Cold Water on the Fourth of July Celebration at Honolulu"
The morning call, July 16, 1893, Page 18, Image 18

“Running down Lepers: Hawaiian Troops and Sick Colonists May Engage in a Unique Battle”
The evening bulletin, July 17, 1893, Image 1

“The Shooting of Stolz: A Coroner’s Jury Finds Koolau Guity--Evidence Puts an Officer in a Queer Position.”
The Daily Bulletin, July 17, 1893, Image 3

“News from Kanaka Land: No Change in Political Situation: a Battle with the Leper Outlaws”
The Herald, July 26, 1893, Image 1

"Story of Koolau's Deed: Told by Two Lepers Now on Molokai: They Say Stolz Was Shot to Save the Shooter's Friend"
The Daily bulletin, August 16, 1893, Image 3

"The Kalalau Lepers: The Murderer Koolau--Other Matters of Kindred Interest"
The Hawaiian star., October 26, 1893, Page 5, Image 5

“Bandits’ Grave Found: Koolau, the Leper Outlaw, finally Succumbs”
The Hawaiian Star, February 19, 1897, Image 1

“Found Koolau’s Grave: Pat Cullen Surrenders to Deputy-Sheriff Coney: Budget of News from Kalalau Valley Brought by the Mikahala This Morning”
Evening Bulletin, February 19, 1897, Image 1

“How It Appeared: Deputy Sheriff Coney Talks of Koolau’s Grave: Outlaw and His Rifle Buried Together--Remains Wrapped in Coat”
The Hawaiian Gazette, February 26, 1897, Page 7, Image 7

“The Story of Piilani”
The Garden Island, December 19, 1916, Page 6, Image 6
The Garden Island., December 26, 1916, Page 4, Image 4
The Garden Island., January 02, 1917, Page 4, Image 4