Ernest C. Matthews, proprietor of a music and stationery store in Eureka, California, incorporated North Counties Oil Company on May 14, 1920. On and off over the next 16 years, he drilled wells in Humboldt County. None of the wells proved successful.

Capitalization was 500,000 shares at a nominal par value of $1 each. More than 170,000 shares were issued. The company’s future depended upon finding oil with their first well, spudded in March 1921 on the Mattole River near Honeydew.

Oil map of  Humboldt County, California.

Searching for oil in Humboldt County, California, North Counties Oil had trouble with its drilling crews. The company secretary’s wife cooked for the outfit, which attempted three wells.

The area had seen brief oil excitement circa 1865 and again in 1898, but none of the exploratory wells proved commercial.

North Counties Oil drilled on the Etter Ranch in Section 36, Township 2 South, Range 1 West. The well showed promising signs of oil and natural gas before being beset by mechanical difficulties. By 1922, the California State Mining Bureau noted of the well, “Finances low – trouble with crews – Reynolds now drilling. Secretary’s wife cooking for outfit.” The well failed.

Still confident there was oil on their lease, North Counties Oil returned five years later to drill a second well within a few hundred feet of their first. It was not a commercial producer.

Another 10 years passed before North Counties made its third and final attempt, spudding a well within sight of its two others in September of 1936. This well was a dry hole. North Counties Oil Company seems to have run out of both money and luck.

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W. O. Kinsman was company secretary, so Mathews – the music store proprietor – and Kinsman’s signatures may be on the company’s collectible stock certificate. But officers changed over time. F. M. Reynolds and Stanley Barry later served as president of the failed oil exploration venture.


The stories of exploration companies joining petroleum booms (and avoiding busts) can be found updated in Is my Old Oil Stock worth Anything? The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Please support this energy education website. For membership information, contact © 2021 AOGHS.

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