The town of Wallace was founded in 1865 shortly after the establishment
of Fort Wallace, a military outpost maintained by the war Department to
protect the settlers from Indians. In the 1870s Wallace was a thriving
city of 1,800 people and a division point on the Kansas Pacific
railroad, which maintained a roundhouse, an office building, a station,
and a hotel there. The history of the ‘Harvey Girls”, waitresses in
railroad eating houses along the Kansas Pacific Railroad, began at
Wallace, when Fred Harvey opened a hotel and restaurant for the
railroad. Cowboys, soldiers, railroaders, and businessmen were catered
to by the Harvey Girls at the Wallace Hotel, which was said to offer the
best accommodations and food in western Kansas.
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.