Octave and Jean Marie Dargeles left Montegut in 1886. They traveled slowly over dirt paths in the ox cart pulled by the family cow; it would take them the better part of a day to reach the nearest train station in Rabastans de Bigorre. It was at this station their father, Raymond Dargeles, bid them a final and emotional farewell. Their journey 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 family, Montegut or France again.
Octave and Jean Marie were the two oldest sons in the family, a sister, Francine and younger brother stayed in Montegut. According to French law the oldest son is entitled to the family property, the remaining children leave either to marry or work until they can afford to purchase their own property. Octave and Jean Marie were given what little money the family had, in lieu of their inheritance, to pay for their travel. In turn they gave up any claim to Montegut. They turned their sights to unknown possibilities and headed toward their future.
The brothers stayed in New Orleans enduring a bitterly cold winter. Hard workers, they had saved enough money to continue their travel to California. Arriving by ship in San Francisco, they were able to find work, began to save and make new plans for their future. The local French community welcomed and encouraged them. For these two strong young men it seemed nothing was out of their reach now.
Octave and Jean Marie were introduced to two beautiful French sisters. Victorine and Nancy Bonnebell had recently emigrated from the Lyon region of France. The brothers soon married the sisters, Octave to Victorine and Jean Marie to Nancy.
Again, the brothers stepped boldly into their future. With their young brides they left San Francisco and moved to Fresno, in California’s Great Central Valley, which has a climate and terrain similiar to their beloved Montegut. Fresno was still a young 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 sat near the corner of what are now Van Ness and C Streets. It was a broad wooden building with two large windows with striped awnings to help tame the California sun. There was a living area above the bakery. Soon a baby arrived, Ernest, for Octave and Victorine then Jean Marie and Nancy welcomed their son, Caesar, the flat became crowded. Jean Marie, Nancy and Caesar moved to a small house. Octave and Gabrielle’s family continued to grow; Frank and then Henry were born.
The bakery was a success…
In 1907 a daughter was born, Octavia Victorine Dargeles, Barry’s mother. Only a couple years later Francine (Patricia’s mother) followed by Raymond (later nicknamed Frenchie).
But Octave was not satisfied. Deep 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. He purchased a section of land (640 acres) in Caruthers. For several years he did all 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 for his family. After all the years he still held the country in his heart, so in 1911 he moved his family away from Fresno. It is said Octave felt that Fresno had grown too big; it was too metropolitan for his children.
Octave regularly mailed letters to his family in France, sending news about his family and business. A family portrait arrived in Montegut just before the turn of the century. This beautifully framed photo has hung in Montegut for over 110 years. Along with this picture it would be one of the last letters to arrive in France.
There was 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.
And, if you have, thanks for reading.