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February 18, 2009 > History: Deja Vieux

History: Deja Vieux

By Phil Holmes

The Vieux family has been living, farming and cattle ranching in Alameda County since 1890. The household is steeped in the agricultural way of life from its roots in France.

Octavien Vieux was born in 1861 in Pisancon, France, a small hamlet at the base of the French Alps north of Marseille.

He met and married Noemie Pellegrin in Marseille in 1881, and they immigrated to the U.S. in 1883. After a short stay in New Orleans, they came to San Francisco. While Octavien herded sheep in Northern California and prospected in the gold fields, Noemie stayed in the City to cook for a wealthy family.

Upon his return, Octavien settled his family in a French enclave in the Sunol hills and raised beef cattle and milk cows while growing grain, hay and grapes. Here their four sons and two daughters were born.

Octavien was a true entrepreneur. He invested in multiple properties: a fish camp in Point Arena, gas station and boarding house in Mission San Jose, apricot orchard at the bottom of Morrison Canyon Road, and the current Vieux Ranch at the top of Morrison Canyon.

Octavien was well known in Niles. Because he never learned to drive, he walked from his home on Morrison Canyon with his black satchel to conduct business transactions. Arriving at the bank, he would sit in a private area and wait for Jack Parry to close his teller window and walk across the room to help him. They would speak in French and complete transactions, all the time Octavien never thinking Parry would one day marry his granddaughter Helen.

Sons Leon, Jack and Robert formed Vieux Brothers, a small building company. Located in Niles, they also had a small retail outlet for electrical and construction supplies. In time, they opened a branch in Pleasanton.

Octavia, the youngest daughter, ran the gas station and boarding house in Mission San Jose. The property was just south of the bridge on Mission Boulevard.

Their fourth son, Alfred, continued in the family ranching business. He purchased the property at the top of Morrison Canyon from his father in 1918. Alfred and his new bride, San Francisco native Nellie Fraser, ran cattle and raised their children. Bob, Helen, and Don attended Niles Elementary and Washington High School.

With hard work, stewardship for the land, and devotion to their calling, Bob and Don ranched with their father until he died in 1968. The brothers also formed a 45-year partnership, starting with 40 head of cattle on land rented from the Meyers in Decoto.

In a recent interview, Bob recalled a time as a young boy when he was riding a horse home after a long day helping his father. Exhausted from the work, he fell asleep astride the horse. Bob married Joyce White in 1950, purchased property in Altamont, and raised his children, Al and Mary. The family continues to manage a successful, diverse agricultural business with cattle, hay, and grain crops.

Helen married Jack Parry in 1950. They raised their son, David, and daughter, Susy, in Niles. Though she was not directly involved with working the ranch, Helen was deeply connected to her ranching heritage. You could find her horseback riding with her daughter or helping prepare meals for roundups.

Don married Raelene Lanotti in 1963. They raised daughters Melanie and Brenda on the Morrison Canyon property. Today Raelene and her granddaughter Josey live on the family ranch. Looking out the kitchen window you can see cattle in the field, horses grazing in the pasture, grapes ripening on the vines, and the world of highways and microchips in the distance.

In the cattle industry, Bob and Don were recognized leaders for their honesty and stockmanship. Don was memorialized by "California Cattleman Magazine" for having "the uncanny ability to find simple approaches to complex problems." Bob served as director of several organizations and was "Cattleman of the Year" in 1987 and "Agriculturalist of the year" in 1990.

To this day, the Vieux family continues its ranching and cattle heritage. Running continuously since 1890, the Vieux ranch is a member of the 100 Year Club for State Agriculture.

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