18 August 2021

Kiha Ka’awa Nebeker, one of the first Native Hawaiians in Utah and the US

Kiha Ka’awa Nebek.
Image from FindAGrave
Kiha Ka’awa Nebeker was one of the first Native Hawaiians to permanently immigrate from the Sandwich Islands (now known as Hawaii) to the US mainland.

Kiha came to SLC as an 11-year-old child in 1873 along with 2 other children from Hawaii: Kahana Pukahi and Charles Rowan. Kahana was also a Native Hawaiian and Charles, although born in Hawaii, was of English-American descent. 

All 3 children were part of families that had converted to Mormonism and received permission from King Kalakaua to leave Hawaii with the Mormon missionaries. Kahana and Charles lived with William King in Fillmore and Kiha lived with George Nebeker in SLC.

Kiha was adopted by George Nebeker and his 2nd polygamous wife, Maria. Sometimes the term “adopted” can be ambiguous but in this case it seems to be a legitimate integration into the Nebeker family and Kiha used the Nebeker name for the rest of his life.

While growing up in SLC during the 1870s, Kiha lived with the Nebekers in an adobe home located at what is now 344 N 500 West (now occupied by railroad tracks). At the time this area of SLC was very rural with few homes and primarily farmland.

In 1885 Kiha married Emma Weinauge, a White woman who was also a Mormon convert.

In Feb 1886 Kiha became a legal US citizen (likely the first Hawaiian to become a citizen).

Both these dates are important because in 1888 Utah passed an anti-miscegenation law banning interracial marriage and in 1889 the Utah Supreme Court banned Native Hawaiians from becoming citizens of the US and legally defined them as belonging to the Malay race.

Emma and their 2nd child both died in 1890 leaving Kiha a single father of a baby boy, Orson.

Kiha remarried about 1900 to a SLC woman of Irish decent, Mattie Graham. The marriage took place in Evanston because Wyoming had repealed its interracial marriage law in 1882 (reinstated 1913).

Kiha and Mattie raised Orson and 4 daughters in SLC. They lived in several different neighborhoods including Millcreek, Murray, and West Temple before moving to what is now the Central 9th area.

In 1919 they rented a house at 809 S Jefferson and lived there until 1921. Until recently, this was the only home of Kiha’s that had not been demolished (Image 3).

In 1925, Kiha and Mattie purchased a house at 154 W 700 South (now demolished). It was the first home that Kiha owned and he was 63 years old when he moved in. 

Kiha died in 1931 at the age of 69 of Pulmanary Tuberculosis. His wife, Mattie, continued to live in their house until her death in 1963.

Kiha Ka'awa Nebeker's house at
809 S Jefferson SLC, June 23 2021.

809 S Jefferson SLC, demolished. Aug 13 2021.

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