With the protection
of the Fort and the presence of the railroad, Wallace became quite the
boom town and population soared. The railroad brought people and
prosperity to the west. For hundreds of miles, small towns sprung
up around railroad depots, and the west became settled in a much easier
manner than before. The population of towns like Wallace boomed,
and businessmen began making for themselves a good life.
A common practice for many entrepreneurs was to open
up a small store selling items (liquor being the best seller) to
railroad men. A man by the name of Thomas Madigan who came west
with the rail did exactly that, opening up a "General Merchandise"
store in the town of Wallace. He settled into Wallace and
eventually raised a very successful family there.
Peter Robidoux also came west with the rail. A
French-Canadian, Robidoux came to Wallace in 1872 as he had "taken a
liking" to it when he passed through several years before. Seeing
that Thomas Madigan had an excellent business started, Robidoux decided
to do the same, and opened a store all his own. Both men were
wildly successful, and although they were business rivals they were
also the best of friends. In fact, one of Thomas Madigan's sons
later married a daughter of Pete Robidoux. Once they got their
businesses going strong, both Madigan and Robidoux were forced to
enlarge their stores several times while making a small fortune selling
items for much more than they were in Denver or Kansas City.
A series of tall tales is connected with the names
of Robidoux and Madigan. Robidoux for instance, boasted that he
would keep an empty beer keg in his store and drop in it all the silver
dollars he earned that day. One day's earnings usually yielded an
entire keg full of silver, not to mention some other "small change".
Another story centers along the love the two men had for playing jokes
on one another. Thomas Madigan left town one day, with an amateur
shopkeeper in charge of his business. At the time, Madigan had
100 bottles of $10 champagne in his cellar. Robidoux sent some of
his friends over to Madigan's store. There the men asked for cider
(sold for $.25 a bottle) and pointed the greenhorn shopkeeper straight
to the $10 champagne. By the time Madigan returned, all of his
good champagne was gone...sold at $.25 a bottle. Rather than
getting angry at Robidoux for making him lose $975, Robidoux laughed as
Madigan tried unsuccessfully to "cuss him out" and their friendship
continued as before.
Theodore Roosevelt and the Kansas Badger
President Teddy Roosevelt embarked on a highly-anticipated rail tour of
the American West in the spring of 1903, He travelled 14,000 miles over
8 weeks, visiting 25 states and 150 towns, and delivering 200 speeches.
On May 3, the President attended the First Methodist Church of Sharon
Springs, sharing his hymnbook with two young girls. That afternoon, he
took an extended ride on a borrowed horse, reportedly riding at
breakneck speeds around the prairie and nearly exhausting the steed!
Upon his return, a little girl approached and asked if the President
would like to have a baby badger. He said he would and a short time
later the two-week old badger was delivered. In exchange, the little
girl and her friends got a private tour of the President’s elegant
train car, the Elysian, as well as flowers and a medal. Josiah the
badger (named for the little girls brother who had captured the animal)
rode in the Presidential car for the journey, hand-fed with potatoes
and milk. He showed the badger to schoolchildren on the trip, pointing
out the white stripe that ran down his back.
Upon return to Washington, the badger joined the Roosevelt family’s
famous White House menagerie. When he began to hiss and nip at the
ankles of guests, he was donated to the Bronx Zoo. The badger was a
particular favorite of Archie Roosevelt, who is shown pictured holding
| Wallace, 1870s
When the railroad changed the division point from
Wallace to a town further west in 1890, business in Wallace slowed
dramatically. Thomas Madigan lowered the prices of his
merchandise to accommodate for the slower business. Robidoux,
however refused to change anything, even when Madigan's items were
twice as cheap. Both men began to diversify and become ranchers
in addition to businessmen.
Thomas Madigan married Mary Catherine Smith in
1877 and one of their first homes together was in the relocated Pond
Creek Stagestation. The famous Madigan store had its first humble
beginnings in the bottom of the Pond Creek, while three of Thomas and
Mary's four children were born in the upstairs room. In 1898, the
Madigan store was sold to Thomas' brother-in-law, and the Madigans
moved out of town to their nearby ranch. They took the Pond Creek
Station with them where they used it to store hay. When Thomas
died in 1928 he had almost 8,000 acres to his name.
Robidoux vowed that if ever a day came when no one
entered his store he would lock the doors and never enter it again.
That day came in 1893 and Robidoux (mostly) stuck to his word.
The doors were locked and the windows were boarded up as all the
merchandise still sat on the shelves. Robidoux only walked in his
store one more time, in order to get hay for his livestock during a
blizzard. In 1909, Peter Robidoux bought a Victorian-style home that
had been built by H.A. Clark in 1880. Robidoux, his wife Alice,
and their four children lived in this house for many
years. Robidoux literally built himself an empire, and when he
later sold all his holdings at a general auction in 1919, 32,000 acres
were sold. The Robidoux home remains standing today. This piece of
early county history is now being meticulously preserved and catered
events may be held in the restored Robidoux home.