John William Eckols, state legislator, county commissioner, farmer, and cattle rancher, was born on April 30, 1839, in Madison County, Tennessee. He was the second of four children born to Isabella Wilson (Harris) and Noah Reese Eckols of Tennessee. The Harris and Eckols families moved together to Texas in 1850, initially settling on land in Guadalupe County near the Texas Hill Country. John’s maternal grandfather, Isham V. Harris, served Guadalupe County as a Democrat in the Texas legislature from 1857 to 1859 but was soundly defeated for reelection by constituents angered at his efforts (along with state Senator Henry Eustace McCulloch) to cede parts of Guadalupe County to create Blanco County.
John Eckols married his third cousin, Laura Ann Harris of Wilson County, Tennessee, in November 1860 in Guadalupe County, and the couple had six sons: Lee, Eugene, John, Adelbert, Ewell, and Clemmons (also known as “Doctor”). Relocating to the community of Belmont in nearby Gonzales County by 1861, Eckols enlisted with the Confederate Army for service in the Civil War in March 1862 and initially served as a private in Company E, Capt. Nat Benton’s Company of the Thirty-sixth Texas Cavalry (Texas Mounted Riflemen). He later transferred to Company B, Woods’ Regiment, within the same division. According to Confederate service records, Private Eckols spent the majority of his three-year enlistment stationed at Camp Salado, but was dispatched for a time beginning in February 1864 “in pursuit of deserters.”
After the Civil War, Eckols returned to farming near Luling in Gonzales County, with his sons assisting their father as farm laborers on the family land—an operation that apparently was prosperous; the 1870 census places the value of the Eckols homestead at $680, and the 1880 census lists a twenty-four-year-old servant named Martha Lentz as living with the family.
The origins of Eckols’s political involvement are unknown, though he held a Texas political legacy by virtue of his grandfather’s service in the legislature, and himself served from 1882 to 1884 as a Gonzales County commissioner. In the 1890s he joined the new People’s Party and secured the Populist nomination for the Texas House of Representatives in the 1898 election. He defeated incumbent Democrat J. B. Hill and was sworn in to represent Gonzales County when the Twenty-sixth Legislature convened in January 1899. Speaker J. S. Sherrill appointed the Populist Eckols to the Military Affairs and Public Printing committees, but with only five additional Populists in the legislature with whom he could caucus, Eckols proved largely inactive throughout the 138-day regular session as well as the thirty-day “called” session. Excused on account of important business five times, and once due to sickness, Eckols authored a single bill in the Twenty-sixth Legislature: a proposal to create a “State Maritime College,” which died in committee upon an adverse report issued by State Affairs committee chairman Eugene Shelburne.
Eckols retired from politics following his single term in the legislature, returning to farming and stock-raising in Gonzales County with his wife and two of their teenage grandchildren, living in close proximity to several of the couple’s children. He died at age sixty-three on January 7, 1903, in Gonzales County, and was interred in Harris Chapel Cemetery in Belmont.