Friday, August 31, 2018

Octave's last letter to France

Octave Valere Dargeles

24 June 1867 Montegut Arros, France

16 October 1927 Caruthers, Fresno County, Fresno, Ca., USA

Octave and Jean Marie along with their father Raymond, left Montegut in 1885. They traveled slowly over dirt paths in the ox cart pulled by the family cow; it would take them the better part of the morning to reach the nearest train station 13 km away in Rabastans de Bigorre. It was here their father, Raymond Dargeles, bid them a final and emotional farewell. Their adventure had begun, they boarded the train that would deliver them to Bordeaux and then on to a steamer ship to New Orleans, Louisiana.

These two young men would never see their french family, Montegut or France again. Yet, would always feel the strong connection to their family

Octave and Jean Marie were the two youngest sons in the family, a sister, Helene and older brother Joseph would stay in Montegut.  Octave and Jean Marie were given what little money the family could spare to pay for their travel. There was little work in their area of France and being adventurous spirits they turned their sights to unknown possibilities and headed toward their future.

The brothers stayed in New Orleans enduring a bitterly cold winter. Neither Octave nor Jean Marie spoke English upon their arrival. They worked hard to learn both the language and customs in the US. Thankfully, there was a fairly large population of native French speakers and they soon found lodging and employment. But their goal was California!

Both men were hard workers and eager to continue their travel to California they hired on to a cattle drive headed west. Keep in mind this was a purely American occupation. In Montegut they had farm animals including horses and milk cows which held little resemblance to the duties of the American Cowboy!

Arriving in San Francisco, they were directed to a large community of French immigrants near San Jose. Here they were welcomed and encouraged to pursue their dreams. Quickly able to find work, they worked long hours and saved money while mastering a new language and making plans for the next step into their future. Ironically, it was in San Jose where they learned to bake French bread! Little did they know it would be a large part of their future. For these two optimistic young men it seemed nothing was out of their reach.

Octave and Jean Marie were introduced to two beautiful French sisters. Victorine and Nancy Bonnabel who had recently emigrated from the Lyon region of France. In 1890 the brothers married the sisters, Octave to Victorine and Jean Marie to Nancy.

Again, the brothers stepped confidently into their future. With their new brides they left San Jose and moved to Fresno, in California’s Great Central Valley, which has a climate and terrain similar to their beloved Montegut. Fresno was still a young but energetic town with dirt streets, wooden sidewalks and a railroad station. There was only a spark of what would later become one of the most important agriculture centers in the United States and eventually the world.

Octave and Jean Marie opened the first French Bakery in Fresno. The bakery was located at 1318 K street AND with a telephone 771 Red (1900 letterhead). It was a broad wooden building with two large windows with striped awnings to help tame the hot Fresno summer sun. There was a living area above the bakery. Soon a baby arrived, Jean Marie and Nancy welcomed their son, Cesar, Then Ernest the first son for Octave and Victorine.  As the flat became crowded Jean Marie, Nancy and Cesar moved to a small house. Octave and Gabrielle’s family continued to grow; Frank and then Henry were born.

Sadly, in 1897 Jean Marie died of tuberculous in a sanitarian in San Jose. Nancy and Caesar stayed in Fresno. Nancy remarried and Cesar was adopted by Octave and Victorine.

The bakery was successful… but the wine business in the basement provided the majority of their income. The business soon became The French Bakery and Wine Cellar.

In 1907 a daughter was born, Octavia Victorine Dargeles, Barry’s mother. Only a couple years later Francine and soon followed by Raymond (later nicknamed Frenchie).

But Octave was not satisfied. In his heart he longed to return to farming, the thread that connected him to his roots and France. From father to son, for a century or more it was who he was and what he wanted for his family. In letters to his brother Joseph, Octave shared ideas of combining American and French farming techniques he was convinced it would be successful.  He purchased a section of land (640 acres) in Caruthers. For a few years he continued the baking in Fresno and then took the wagon to Caruthers to work the rest of the day developing his vineyards and dairy farm. He designed and built a large impressive home, reminiscent of Montegut, for his family. After all the years he still held the country in his heart, so in 1911 he moved his family to Caruthers. Stories repeated through the family stated Octave felt that Fresno had grown too big, too metropolitan for his children!

Octave regularly mailed letters to his family in France, sending news about his family and business. Finding these letters has been a gift beyond any expectation. The last letter we have found was dated 1911, there were certainly more but we are grateful for those letters that survived.

A family portrait arrived in Montegut just before the turn of the century. This beautifully framed photo has hung in Montegut for nearly 120 years, Victorine (1872-1957) with Ernest (1895-1950) and Henry (1898-1972), Octave with Cesar (1895-1943).

There was close to a 100 year span from Octave’s last letter to his family in France and the arrival of the first letter from France to the few remaining Dargeles descendants in the US. Which in turn changed the course of our life by reconnecting us to our French roots.

And, if you have, thanks for reading.


Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Another Finish!

The floor under the stairs at the foyer was in dire need of renovation. The area was covered mostly with wood planks sitting on wood joists. I say mostly, as there were large spaces where the wood had been removed and replaced with old lightweight cardboard. Needless to say it stayed damp year round and yes, musty and smelly, too. A small area of cement, perhaps added after a major flood in the early 90's. That repair at least helped stabilize the base of the stair case.

This is the finish!

And now photos of the starting point.
Here are a couple of the wood joists and planks from the original floor. The blue line on the wall was used to level the floor. All the wood had long since rotted and went directly to the "burn pile".

A thick layer of gravel was added around the existing cement area.

Notice the gravel stills sits well below the marked level line.

Water bearer liner topped with metal grid to reinforce the cement. And now it is time to add the cement

 First stack of cement bags, total of 40 bags, each weighing 70 lbs would be needed to complete the project.

This bucket held only half a sack of cement.
Total sacks = 40  Total buckets of cement = 80, hand mixed then leveled (screed) with a long board, then troweled and brushed to create the correct texture for the tile installation.
All's well, he still gives me the "thumbs up" signal!

Tight work area under the first few steps, several feet of work was done lying down.

One extremely long day of mixing and pouring cement and it is time to rest over the weekend while it dries.

Plastering the walls is the next up on the agenda.  Clean, patch, plaster then sand then clean and paint! Clearly easier said than done in tight quarters, and shall I even mention the dust! During this process we had "downstairs shoes and upstairs shoes" although little good it did. 

We tried to create a barrier to limit the dust from the sanding process, we used several rolls of tape to make only a very slight difference. Lesson learned; you have to clean anyway.

Freshly plastered, sanded and painted walls.

Now for the tile installation. Walls are ready and the floor is level just a matter of laying out the 18" tile in a grid. 
Easier said than done, but why would this be any different than any of the previous rooms? Well, it wasn't impossible, just needed some extra planning as not 1 of the 3 walls were straight or flat.

That cut around the curve of the step will be tricky.

A little encouragement never hurts, Millie lends her support.

And he does it!

Beautiful cut and it fits perfectly. And now for the grout!

And done! We have found a lovely old sideboard for this space and once in place that crooked wall will never be noticed.

And, if you have, thanks for reading.


Therese Darees

The Montegut family mourned the loss of Therese Darees this summer. She was 89 years old and adored by her large family and many long time friends and neighbors. Born and raised in Montegut as was her mother, Francine Dargeles and grandfather Joseph Dargeles.

Therese loved all the children of her nieces and nephews as well as their own children and they all responded in kind. She was considered the "cook" of the family and took great pride in the meals she served. An extra big and kind heart drew even the farm animals to her. Cats would escort her out to the garden to pick a fig from one of the trees her father planted. Even the chickens followed her to and from the mailbox each afternoon and came when she called to secure them in the coop each evening.

Therese was a sweet and kind cousin and we think of her often, she is missed.

And, if you have, thanks for reading...


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

We've Got Mail!

While emptying cabinets in a large downstairs room this large oak box was tucked away on the highest shelf, obscured by books and bags of once loved holiday decorations. It quickly became apparent that the unadorned box held so much more than its homely appearance indicated.

Upon closer inspection we discovered a treasure within this perfectly plain container.

We sensed this might be more than old letters or an obscure bill of sale for a farm animal.

The papers were dry, dusty and brittle many were bundled with cotton string or bits of ribbon. Some were loose, torn, ragged and others partially disintegrated due to insects or simply the act of unfolding and refolding over centuries.

The oldest papers where written in Occitan, sometimes called Old Provencal, not to be confused with French. It is one of the oldest of the Romance languages. Dating as far back as the 8th to the 14th Centuries. Now all but extinct in the region.

Then we began to notice dates, this one is dated 5 June 1694!

Official documents became easily identifiable and were often wrapped in an separate page to act as an envelop with an embossed stamp.

One of only a handful of personal items a couple of letters written by Octave Dargeles, Barrys Grandfather. A hand drawn map of the farm and surrounding property, outlined in blue pencil owned by the Dazet family.  Property where Octave grew up, the farm house is colored and L-shaped on the map.

Barrys Great Grandmother was Francoise Dazet (1836-1868).

Written while Louie Philippe was king, this document is dated December 1839

Most had at least one inked stamp many also had an embossed mark as well.

Clever use of fine cotton thread to hold pages of a single document together.

Bound together with fine cotton thread and a tiny knot.

A few Public Announcements

And the penmanship!

We quickly realized that we needed advice and a healthy dose expertise.

Along with cousin Georgette two local women who have collaborated on several books on the Gers region.  They have done extensive research and we were so pleased to share our discovery. Over a period of 4 sessions, they photographed every single page of each document or letter, over 1,300 pages! AND they will translate each page to develop and chronicle the story and soul of Montegut through these links to nearly 400 years of family.

On their last visit they shared the genealogy search done on the family line and presented a record of the Dargeles, Dazet, Pardiallan, Abadie, Gardey, Mesples and several more. Barry's family tree sprouted several new branches!

A priceless treasure, indeed.

And if you have, thanks for reading

Au revoir!