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Mary Richardson – Ontario's Founder

March 24, 2020

By Gary Fugate, Malheur Historical Project

Four prominent local entrepreneurs recognized the future city of Ontario’s potential, when it became known that a railroad was soon to arrive following the path of the Oregon Trail.  All four owned successful businesses: two in Malheur City and two in Baker City.  William Morfitt and Mary Collins Richardson operated general merchandise stores in Malheur City and James Virtue was a gold miner and banker in Baker City.  The fourth man, Daniel Smith was a lumberman cutting timber from the mountains surrounding Baker City.

While all four of Ontario’s founders were wealthy, Mary Richardson, just prior to her death at Baker City in 1932, was known as the richest woman in Eastern Oregon.  Mary was a vibrant French woman who created a financial empire in Malheur City and Eastern Oregon.  She married another merchant, Minas Gallatin Richardson in 1877 at Malheur City.  That same year Mary told the world that she loved her husband, but she would control her own financial destiny.  Miss Collins filed a Prenuptial Agreement with the Baker County Court stating that her possessions held before the marriage would be hers after the marriage.  This daring and almost unheard of action must have created quite a stir in 1870s Oregon.

Transcribed 1877 Prenuptial Agreement from Baker County Courthouse Records:

   List of personal property owned by and in the possession of Mary Collins before her intermarriage with M. G. Richardson and which property and the proceeds arising therefrom she intends to own, hold and possess as her separate property, free from the contract of her said husband and from any liability for any claims or demands against him to wit:

The present Store House now occupied by me at Malheur City Baker County Oregon. Also four other sevrall dwelling houses situated in said Malheur City. One north of the store room now occupied by me and on the south side of Main Street and other three situated on the West side of Main Street and North of said Store room. Said buildings being situated on unsurveyed public lands of the United States.

   Also the following list of goods, wares and merchandise owned by me and now in said Store room in said Malheur City Baker Co. Oregon. Also all notes, accounts, claims and demands due me and growing out of said business to wit:

250 rolls of wall paper 3 dozen mens shoes
1-1/2 gross cards 4 dozen mens shoes
½ dozen ladagoes 4-1/2 dozen cashemere shirts
½ dozen lines 5-1/2 dozen chevet shirts
1 dozen bridles 4-1/2 dozen flannel drawers & u. shirts
1 dozen belts 6 dozen cotton drawers & u. shirts
1 dozen croopers 8 dozen knit drawers & u. shirts
2 saddles 2 dozen suspenders
1 case tacks 12 dozen pair socks
6 dozen files 7 dozen pair overalls
2 dozen locks 3 dozen boys boots
2 dozen shovels 4 pieces towling
30 dozen carro fruit 3 dozen towels
12 dozen tumblers ½ dozen wool table covers
7 dozen pocket knives 1 dozen balworal skirts
3 dozen cases liquors 10 pieces Oregon flannel
3 bbls liquor 15 pieces woolen fancy goods
8 dozen pipes 6 pieces gingham
5 li ? hatchets 26 pieces calico
1 case sardines 18 pieces bleach brown muslin
3 cases mustard 8 pieces cashemere cloth
3 cases spice 3 pieces water proof
100 lbs nuts 3 pieces mesquito bos
200 lbs beans 2 pieces drilling
550 lbs tobacco 50 pieces velvet ribbon
6000 lbs flour 4 pieces Swiss muslin
1 gross yeast powders 1 dozen corsets
6 cases saleratus 2 pieces linners
3 cases lye 26 pieces lace
3 cases washing powders 3 pieces embroidery
10 cases candles 35 pieces battin
20 cases soap 20 pieces woolen yarn
800 cases coffee 14 dozen childrens woolen stockings
20 bbls sugar 12 dozen ladies cotton hose
2 bbls peaches 6 dozen buckskin gloves
3 bbls plums 12 gross fancy buttons
800 lbs salt 24 dozen Brooks thread
3 bbls apples 6 dozen linen thread
150 lbs lard 12 dozen linen hdkfs
1000 lbs bacon 1 dozen ladies fancy chemise
13 mats rice 24 dozen alpaca braid
3 cases ground coffee 6 dozen serving silk
8 chest tea 8 dozen port monies
4 boxes candy 6 dozen led pencils
500 # rope 2 dozen razors
500 # iron 4 dozen cowls
12 kegs nails 4 dozen memorandum books
4 kegs molasses 6 ream legal corp paper
26 cashemere suits 6 ledgers
1 dozen cashemere vests 2 dozen spectacles
72 pair cashemere pants 12 dozen perfumery
17 cashemere coats 6 dozen ladies shoes
10 over cashmere coats 4 dozen misses & childrens shoes
10 dozen mens boots 3 dozen slippers
2 dozen mens shoes 1 lot crockery
  1 lot tinware

State of Oregon

County of Baker

I Mary Collins being first duly sworn depose and say that the property contained in the foregoing list was owned and possessed by me before my marriage with M. G. Richardson my present husband and that it is my intentions to own and possess said described property as my separate property free from any debts or liabilities of my said husband.

Subscribed and sworn before me this 7th day of May 1877, W. J. Leatherwood Justice of the Peace.     Mary Richardson

The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the Women’s Vote. For the Centennial, Oregon Heritage is sharing stories of notable women in Oregon’s history. For ideas on how to research women’s history in your community, visit and refer to our Centennial Vote Planning Guide.

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