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.