Ernest William Winkler, librarian and bibliographer, was born on January 21, 1875, near The Grove on the border of Coryell and Bell counties. He completed the normal course at Blinn Memorial College at Brenham in 1894; he entered the University of Texas in September 1895 and graduated with his class in 1899, although he taught for one year, 1896–97, at the Eden community near Seguin. Winkler worked as a tutor in history at the university while working on his M.A. degree, which he completed in 1900. In the summer of 1900 he was employed to separate and sort materials in the Bexar Archives. From 1900 to 1903 he taught history at Blinn College; he worked on the college paper there and assisted in indexing the Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association (later the Southwestern Historical Quarterly). From 1910 to 1937 he was associate editor of the Quarterly; he was a member of the editorial committee until 1959 and a fellow of the Texas State Historical Association. In the fall of 1903 Winkler became translator and classifier of manuscripts for the Texas State Library. In 1905 he went to Mexico to acquire Mexican materials and to select documents to be copied for the archives collection. Upon the death of Cadwell Walton Raines in August 1906, Winkler succeeded him as state librarian. In 1907 he transferred to the state's agriculture department as chief clerk, but he returned as state librarian in 1909, under the newly established Texas State Library and Historical Commission; he served as secretary of the commission and editor of Texas Libraries. To carry out the obligation of the commission to print the state's archives, he edited the Secret Journals of the Senate of the Congress of the Republic of Texas (1911) and the Journal of the Secession Convention of Texas, 1861 (1912). He assisted Eugene Campbell Barker in editing the historical portion of Francis White Johnson's History of Texas and Texans (1914). He served as president of the Texas Library Association in 1912.
In April 1915 under political pressure, Winkler was forced out of the state librarianship. He became assistant librarian and bibliographer at the University of Texas Library in the fall of that year. In 1916 he became reference librarian and curator of Texas books. Winkler was one of the administrators of the Littlefield Fund for Southern History and was active in the examination and purchase of Southern materials. In 1921 he appraised and negotiated the details of the purchase of the Genaro García Collection, which became the foundation for the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection at the University of Texas. He became librarian of the University of Texas in 1923, and during the eleven years of his administration there was a vast expansion of library holdings, particularly in the collection of historical materials. Although on modified service after 1945, Winkler continued his work as a bibliographer; he gave help and encouragement to Thomas Winthrop Streeter in the preparation of Streeter's Bibliography of Texas, 1795–1845 (1956, 1960) and was himself assigned the task of collecting and editing the Check List of Texas Imprints, 1846–1860 (1949), which appeared serially in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly before its publication in book form. For that book he received the Schreiner Award. He became ill in 1950, and the last task of his active career was participation in the opening of the Barker Texas History Center in April 1950. Winkler held emeritus status from the time of his full retirement in October 1951 until his death in Austin on February 8, 1960. He was survived by his widow, Johanne Tabea (Kuehne) Winkler, whom he married on December 22, 1904, and by one son and four daughters. He was buried in the country cemetery near the Moody-Leon Methodist Church on the Coryell-McLennan county line.