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Oral history an empty land

The Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert– The Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert’s February meeting will feature a special video presentation of the late Dennis Casebier speaking to the Searles Valley Historical Society. The subject of that meeting was the gathering of Oral History in the Eastern Mojave Desert. The HSUMD’s own Mark Pahuta shot the video. This meeting, free and open to the general public, will take place at the Historic USO Building, 230 W. Ridgecrest Blvd., at 7:00 pm. on Tuesday, February 21.

Dennis Casebier

As a young Marine stationed at 29 Palms in the 50s, Dennis Casebier became fascinated by the desert during his off-hours exploring the backcountry of Joshua Tree National Monument.  Later, after college, Casebier worked at the Fleet Analysis Center in Corona, California.  By that time, Joshua Tree had become very tourist-oriented, so he turned his exploring interests over to the East Mojave Desert – now called the Mojave National Preserve. 


Casebier began a serious study of the history of the East Mojave, specifically the old wagon trail known as Mojave Road.  Frequent business trips to Washington led to many evenings spent in the National Archives and Library of Congress, further studying East Mojave history.  To share the results of his research, Casebier began writing books on the subject, establishing the Tales of the Mojave Road Publishing Company. After his retirement, Casebier and his wife, Jo Ann, purchased the old Goffs Schoolhouse and its associated land, becoming the nucleus of the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Center.

The focus of Dennis Casebier’s original presentation was the expansion of his research through oral history and the art of interviewing participants and witnesses for historical research. The point of the title “Oral History in an Empty Land” is that the Eastern Mojave Desert is rich in history but poor in population. In human terms, the land is empty, and it presents a unique challenge to the oral historian because they must search out the people (or their descendants) that made the history.

The first part of Casebier’s presentation is a tutorial on some of the main things he learned about making oral history while performing 1,000 interviews. The second part is entitled “The Adventures of an Oral Historian in an Empty Land,” It chronicles several of the adventures he encountered in doing this. Many anecdotes are styled to illustrate some of the principles discussed in the first section.

The HSUMD meets on the third Tuesday of the month, except for July and August. Each meeting features a presentation on some aspect of local history.  All are welcome to attend. For more information on this or future meetings, call 760-375-8456 during Book Shop hours: Wednesday through Saturday from 11 am to 3 pm.