Historian Dennis Casebier has been gathering archival materials pertaining to the Mojave Desert since 1954 and has garnered honors for his life's work. His personal collection has become one of the most complete in existence. The additions of the library and personal papers of desert bibliographer E. I. Edwards, the library and collection of Harold and Lucile Weight, and the collection of San Bernardino County historian Germaine L. Moon, have resulted in an archive of Mojave Desert history unsurpassed anywhere; a 6,000 volume library of published literature pertaining to the arid regions, 108,000 historical photographs, 6,000 historic maps of the region dating from earliest times, 3,000 subject files pertaining to individuals of interest and specific cultural sites, 1,000 oral histories, and an extensive collection of old area newspapers, periodicals and pamphlets.
Photo of Dennis Casebier courtesy of Desert Dispatch / Lara Hartley Staff Photographer
Dennis G. Casebier passed away at his home in Bullhead City, Arizona on February 11, 2021, with his daughter Darelyn sitting at his bedside, he was 86 years old. Dennis was born in Topeka, Kansas on September 23, 1934, to Marvin and Mary (Kieffer) Casebier.
Dennis was a scientist turned historian. He had an amazing photographic knowledge of desert history, made all the richer by his extensive research and numerous oral interviews with “old timers.” His books and “educational outreach” changed the way we view the Mojave Desert. Because of Dennis’ knowledge and visionary guidance, the desert is no longer a vast empty waste land.
Dennis attended public schools in Topeka, graduating from high school in 1952. In the summer of 1953, he enlisted in the U. S. Marine Corps with the intention of participating in the Korean war, but soon afterward the armistice was signed ending the war. Dennis began his military service by attending a radio-telegraph operators’ course in San Diego. In 1954 he joined a field command at the Marine Base at Twentynine Palms, California. While at Twentynine Palms he became “hooked on the desert.”
Between 1956 and 1960 he attended Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas and received a BS in mathematics and physics. After the Soviets put Sputnik in space, America needed scientists and engineers. in 1960 he took a position at the Navy guided-missile laboratory in Corona, California, which turned into a 30-year career. In 1995, he began working for Computer Sciences Corporation) as a senior systems engineer consultant supporting the Navy. After another 16 years he finally retired.
The move to Corona, California in 1960 brought him from Kansas much closer to the desert. At first, he explored Joshua Tree National Monument, which he found too crowded; then he ventured to the then seldom visited East Mojave Desert. The scenery, layers of history, and the few resident still there fascinated him. Soon he discovered the Old Government Road (Mojave Road) but found that almost nothing had been written about it. At that time, in the early 1960s, Dennis began spending a large amount of time on Navy business in Washington D. C. where he spent several weeks at a time. Soon he began researching original Army and other federal records at the National Archives and the Library of Congress looking for early history of the East Mojave, to find out what an "Old Government Road" was.
Besides research, Dennis began exploring the Mojave Road, and by 1970 he had traveled the entire route from the Colorado River west to Camp Cady. Beginning in 1970 he began writing books. The first book was published by Arizona State University. After that he formed the Tales of the Mojave Road Publishing Company. Soon, the Mojave Road became more familiar to the public through his publications and slide shows. By the mid-1970s Dennis began assisting the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), helping to guide the future of the Mojave Road.
In 1980, the Associated Blazers of California, asked Dennis to lead a small group of four-wheel drive vehicles over the Mojave Road. In May 1981 at a meeting of scientists, desert explorers and BLM employees, the organization, Friends of the Mojave Road, was formed, with Dennis named chairman. The “Friends” entered into a volunteer agreement to develop the Mojave Road into a recreational trail. They agreed to make minor road repairs, erect rock cairns at intersections to point the way, and prepare and publish a Mojave Road Guide. These tasks were accomplished in November 1983 with the publication of the Guide to the Mojave Road.
Following May 1981 meeting, “The Friends” and BLM began to lay plans for a Mojave Road Rendezvous that occurred during November. Despite sparce publicity, it was a very well attended.
Encouraged by the Mojave Road experience, the Friends of the Mojave Road developed a 660 mile East Mojave Heritage Trail.
After Dennis retired from federal service on the last day of 1989, he and his wife Jo Ann purchased the crumbling Goffs Schoolhouse and the 100 acres that it sat on. After moving to Goffs with his books and research material. The “Friends” contributed vast amount of volunteer work at Goffs. In 1993, the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association (MDHCA), was formed to ensure that the historical research collection and the work being done on the Schoolhouse property at Goffs would exist in perpetuity. In late 1998 restoration of the Schoolhouse was completed.
In 2008, a large library facility modelled after the Goffs railway depot was completed. It cost about one million dollars to build. Since retirement from Federal Civil Service in 1990, the bulk of Dennis’ time was spent building up the archives now housed in this building. The archives include a 6,000-volume library of books, over 1,000 recorded oral history interviews, more than 100,000 historical photographs, more than 6,000 area maps, and several large specialty collections.
Dennis wrote, edited, or published more than 25 books and numerous articles on the history of the desert west and recreational use of the desert. Also, he gave more than 100 formal presentations on desert history, recreational use of the desert, management issues in the desert, and related subjects.
By appointment from the Secretary of the Interior, Dennis served on the Citizens Advisory Commission to the Mojave National Preserve, National Park Service, for four years from 1995-1999. Also, by appointment from the Secretary of the Interior he served on the Citizens Advisory Commission to the California Desert District of the Bureau of Land Management for three years 1999-2002.
In 1975 he received the "Little Old Joe" award from Westerners International for the best book of verbal emphasis produced by anyone from the 100 Corrals of the Westerners around the world for that year for his book The Mojave Road.
On 13 January 1975, he received “A Resolution of Thanks” from the San Bernardino, CA, County Board of Supervisors for research and writing about the history of the desert region of that county.
On 29 September 1987, "A Tribute to Friends of the Mojave Road" was read into the Congressional Record by Congressman Jerry Lewis (Rep. CA)
On 15 June 1988, he was presented with a "Certificate of Appreciation" by Secretary of the Interior Donald Paul Hodel "in recognition of your efforts to educate the public in desert etiquette through your interpretive guide books for the East Mojave National Scenic Area."
On 23 March 1989, the Acting Director of the Bureau of Land Management issued two awards (one for Dennis and one for the Friends of the Mojave Road) "For Exemplary Volunteer Service" on the public lands.
On 10 November 1990, he received a letter of appreciation from Ed Hastey, California State Director for BLM, for the Mojave Road and East Mojave Heritage Trail projects on the occasion of completion of the East Mojave Heritage Trail.
Dennis Casebier was predeceased by his wife Jo Ann. He is survived by his daughter Darelyn Casebier and grandchildren Garrett and Kara. A tribute honoring Dennis and Jo Ann is planned for the 42nd annual Mojave Road Rendezvous at Goffs in October 2021. The family requests that memorial contributions be made to the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association. Donations may be made here.