Native Hawaiians in the Mainland U.S. in the 1800s

Did you know Hawaiians lived on the U.S. and Canadian West Coast from the mid 1800s?

Mainland newspapers reported on the Hawaiian communities, including those in Sutter County, California; Iosepa and Tooele County, Utah. Friday Harbor, Washington, a 2,000 people town today, was named after Friday, a Hawaiian shepherd.

Sutter County, California

The San Francisco Call ran a feature article about a colony of more than 100 Native Hawaiians living in Sutter County. The article described them as carefree and their colony as peaceful and content. The Hawaiians rowed their boats, assembled their tents, and played their ukulele and guitar.

John Sutter brought Native Hawaiians there for them to work for him at Sutter's Fort, the first non-Native American settlement in the California Central Valley. In the beginning, they fished for bass, trout, and catfish and sold them at Sacramento. Eventually, they learned to farm alfalfa and raised hogs and cows.

When a visiting Hawaiian brought poi, ti leaves, kukui, and other items from home, the Hawaiians held barbecues and luau and danced hula. The Hawaiian women still wore their holoku (Hawaiian gowns, each with a train), muumuu (Hawaiian dresses), seed lei, and braided hats.

The Hawaiians intermarried with the Maidu Native Americans in the area. A hundred years later, many of their descendents still strongly relate with both ancestries today.

Iosepa, Utah

Did you know a colony of over a hundred Hawaiian Mormons lived in Utah in the late 1800s and early 1900s? In 1889, they settled in Skull Valley 70 miles from Salt Lake City and started the Mormon town Iosepa ("Yoseepa"), named after Mormon leader Joseph Smith. People around Iosepa usually called it "Kanaka Ranch."

The Hawaiians moved here to be close to the temples and headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For their livelihood, the Hawaiians caught carps from the pond, planted crops, and eventually mined for gold in the nearby mountains. The Iosepa residents held conferences quarterly and celebrated their pioneer day yearly.

The Deseret Evening News reported Iosepa's success in farming in 1894, despite the inhospitable desert land with extreme weathers and the people's lack of farming experience. The bounty of crops included wheat, oat, barley, corn, potatoes, hay, squashes, pumpkins, and garden produce. Iosepa also planned to sell 150 swines.

Tension rose between the Hawaiians and people near Iosepa due to the fear of leprosy. In 1896, the colony had at least three cases of leprosy, which the local newspapers reported, often with a negative slant.

The Salt Lake Herald sent a reporter there, and he describes resident Bessie Peter as " the worst case in the settlement" and her leprosy symptoms in great detail.  Accompanying illustrations show Bessie's leg covered with infected sores and a "leprous hand" and a bandaged hand bandaged. The article's subtitle described the Hawaiians as "unfortunate victims of this most revolting disease living together other seventy miles from Salt Lake City."

Iosepa ceased as a community in 1917, when most of the residents moved to Laie, Hawaii, where a Latter Day Saint Temple was being built. A livestock company bought the land of Iosepa.

While the community may be gone, the cemetery still remains and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1971. Every Memorial Day weekend, descendents of the former residents, people of Polynesian descent, and other interested people in the nearby area go to the former Iosepa site to maintain the cemetery, celebrate the Polynesian cultures, and honor Iosepa's pioneers.

Friday Harbor, Washington

The Hudson Bay Company named Friday Harbor, a town in San Juan County, Washington, after a Hawaiian shepherd named John Friday. A British gunboat went to shore. The gunboat's commanding officer asked Friday, the only man there, what the name of the harbor was. Friday didn't understand English well and replied "Friday," thinking the officer was asking for his name. The name stuck with the ship's crew members, and eventually the British created the first chart of the archipelago with the name Friday Harbor.

-Alice Kim

Notes: Native Hawaiians worked on the Mainland in the 1800s. During the gold rush, Native Hawaiians searched for gold in California and Fraser Canyon. Hundreds of paniolo (cowboys) steered livestock in the U.S. Great Basin. Hawaiians in Washington and Oregon harvested sugar beets and apples. Hawaiian fur trappers working for the Hudson's Bay Company in Canada intermarried with the First Nations people.

The Hawaiians' legacy can be seen today in the places named with Hawaiian words. They include Kanaka (Hawaiian person), Owyhee (an old Hawaiian name for Hawaii), and Kamai (named after the Hawaiian Kama Kamai): the Kanaka Glade in Mendocino County, California; Kanaka Creek in Sierra County, California; Kanaka Bars in Trinity County, California; Kanaka Flats in Jacksonville, Oregon; Kanaka Gulch, Oregon; Owyhee River in southeastern Oregon; and Kamai Point, British Columbia.

Articles from Chronicling America

Sutter County, California

"Hawaii in California"
The San Francisco call., March 26, 1911, Image 4

Iosepa, Utah

"The Iosepa Colony: Crops Raised by Hawaiians There This Year"
Deseret evening news., December 22, 1894, Page 5, Image 5

"Among the Kanakas: A Visit to Their Colony--Celebration of Their Pioneer Day"
The Coalville times., September 06, 1895, Image 1

"Leprosy in the Kanaka Settlement: Unfortunate Victims of This Most Revolting Disease Living Together Only Seventy Miles from Salt Lake City"
The Salt Lake herald., June 20, 1896, Image 1

"Iosepa Conference: Hawaiian Saints and Missionaries Have an Enjoyable Gathering"
Deseret evening news., May 28, 1904, Last Edition, Page 2, Image 2

"Pioneer Day at Isosepa Colony: Prosporous and Thriving Condition of Utah's Hawaiians in Tooele County"
Deseret evening news., August 28, 1907, Last Edition, Page 3, Image 3

Friday Harbor, Washington

"Origin of Name of Friday Harbor"
The San Juan islander., November 28, 1908, Image 1