Monroe County Jean Valjean

A very special thanks to genealogist Kathy Bowlin for her dedication to transcribing the Higbee News articles and graciously sharing her work!

“Reuben Eugene Hall, formerly of Paris, missing for thirteen years and legally declared dead in the local courts, is living at Denver under the name of Harry Thomas, and has been living there since 1910. He is head engineer at the Beatrice creamery, a block from union station, has a wife and daughter and is a respected citizen.

In a letter to his half-brother, Harold Shazer, at Paris, he tells the story of the last thirteen years of his life, of harvest fields and ranches, of drinking and gambling bouts, of midnight rides in empty box cars, and finally of flight from a murder he thought he had committed, how the specter of the crime, accompanied by a great fear, pursued him and how in God's mercy the man thought to have been killed turned up alive before his very eyes in a chance meeting on a Denver street car, relieving him of a dread that had cast a shadow over his whole life and enabling him, free in conscience, to hold up his head and become a man respected among his fellows. The story, rivaling that of Jean Valjean in the wide territory over which it was enacted, is pathetic and humorous by turns, and adds to the intimate history of the town and county its most romantic chapter.

Hall is a grandson of the late O. W. Pelsue and his mother dying when he was a small boy he grew up an adventurer, as a youth fighting through the campaign in the Philippines and afterwards drifting up and down the Pacific Coast, returning home for a short time in 1908. In the summer of 1909 he went to the Kansas harvest fields, and here he begins the remarkable story. When the harvest ended the men in the crew he was with each had a roll of money--something like $175 to the man--and began to drink. A crap game was suggested and Hall was winner to the amount of $750. John Williamson, another member of the crew, went broke practically and quarreled with Hall. Differences were patched up, however, and that night, at Williamson's suggestion the two entered an empty box car on a through freight to beat their way into Kansas City. Hall dozed off in one end of the car, but awakened to find Williamson bending over him going through his pockets. He jumped to his feet and amid the darkness of the car as the train sped along, the two men, both of powerful build, engaged in a terrific life and death struggle. Williamson lost his footing and fell out of the car door. Frightened and distressed--he did not intend to kill the man-Hall got out at the next station and took a fast passenger train back west to Denver, pursued by fear all the way.Next morning in Denver he picked up a newspaper and there confronting him was a new telegram announcing the death of a strange man along the right of way of a railroad in that part of Kansas through which he had passed. Convinced for certain that Williamson was dead, slain by his own hand, Hall changed his name to Harry Thomas and fled to a ranch in the interior of Colorado, where he remained a year. Returning to Denver when he thought it safe, he married and began a new life. But all the time the shadow of a great dread, kept from wife and child, hung over him. Fear prevented him writing to home folks in Paris. Once alone he saw a man from Paris, and that was Cleo Strawn, a former schoolmate. "It frightened me almost to death," he writes. Strawn evidently did not recognize him and the incident passed, but other miserable years passed. Deliverance came almost miraculously one morning, when, on entering a Denver street car, he encountered Williamson, the man he thought he had unintentionally killed years before. This was only a few months ago and lifted the burden of years, leaving him free to communicate with the folks at home. "It tickled me silly," he writes; "I am in fair health and expect to get better from now on." A strange and truly romantic story. Hall says he will keep the name of Thomas because it has never been "dishonored" and because he was married under and holds his property in that name. He is entitled to a soldier pension under the name of Hall and relatives will identify him to the pension department--Paris Mercury.”

Transcription by Kathy Bowlin from The Higbee News, Friday 17 June 1921, Vol 35, No 9.