Last modified on December 31, 2021, at 00:06

Zales Ecton

Zales Nelson Ecton, Sr.

In office
January 3, 1947 – January 3, 1953
Preceded by Burton K. Wheeler
Succeeded by Michael Joseph "Mike" Mansfield

Montana State Senator
In office

Montana State Representative
In office

Born April 1, 1898
Weldon, Decatur County
Died March 3, 1961 (aged 62)
Bozeman, Montana
Resting place Sunset Hills Cemetery in Bozeman
Nationality American
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Vera B. Harris Ecton (married 1921–1961, his death)
Children Eloise Ecton (full name unavailable)
Zales Ecton, Jr.
(both deceased)
Alma mater Montana State University at Bozeman

University of Chicago

Occupation Rancher

Military Service
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Army

(Student Army Training Corps)

Years of service 1917–1918
Battles/wars World War I

Zales Nelson Ecton, Sr. (April 1, 1898 – March 3, 1961), was a Republican Class I United States Senator for a single term from 1947 to 1953, representing Montana.[1]


Ecton was born in rural Weldon in Decatur County in southern Iowa, to Aaron Smith Ecton (1863–1937) and the former Mary Delphia McVay (1868–1953).[2] In 1907, he moved with his family to Gallatin County, Montana.[3] Ecton attended public schools and enrolled at Montana State University (then College) in Bozeman in Gallatin County. When the country entered World War I, Ecton volunteered for training in the Student Army Training Corps.[4]

After the war, Ecton attended the University of Chicago law school, but it is unclear if he graduated from law school. He did not engage in the practice law.[5] but in 1921 became a grain farmer and a livestock rancher near Amsterdam in Gallatin County.[6]

In 1921, Ecton married the former Vera B. Harris (1898–1980). The couple had two children, both deceased, Eloise and Zales Ecton, Jr. (1926–2006).[2]

Political career

In 1932, Ecton was elected to the Montana House of Representatives (where he served for four years) despite the election cycle being highly favorable for the Democratic Party. He moved up to the state Senate, with duties from 1936 to 1946.[2] In 1946, he ran for the Senate seat being vacated by isolationist Democrat Burton K. Wheeler, who had lost the Democrat primary to Montana Supreme Court Justice Leif Erickson.[7] Ecton defeated Erickson in the general election, 54 to 46 percent.[8] He served in the Senate for one term, having been narrowly defeated for reelection in 1952 by U.S. Representative Mike Mansfield,[9] a Democrat college professor from Great Falls who would later be the longest-serving Senate Majority Leader from 1961 to 1977.[10] Mansfield successfully bucked the Republican tide though Dwight Eisenhower, who won Montana in both 1952 and 1956.

While in the Senate, Ecton was assigned to the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs. He also served on the Post Office and Public Lands committees.[4]

Later years

Ecton resumed his ranching operation until his death in Bozeman a month before his 63rd birthday. He, his wife, his son, and parents are interred there at Sunset Hills Cemetery.[1] Ecton was the first popularly elected Republican senator for Montana since adoption of the 17th Amendment to the United States Constitution. A second Republican, Conrad Burns, was not elected to the Senate from Montana until 1988. He served from 1989 to 2007, having been defeated in his bid for a fourth term by the Democrat organic farmer and State Senate President Jon Tester.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Zales Nelson Ecton (1898-1961) - Find A Grave Memorial, accessed July 31, 2021.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 “Former U.S. Senator Zales Ecton, 62, Dies,” Great Falls Tribune, March 4, 1961.
  3. Kim Allen Scott, “Historical Note.” Zales N. Ecton Papers, 1947–1953, Montana State University, Special Collections and Archival Informatics, 2009.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Ecton, Zales N. (Zales Nelson), 1898-1961 - Social Networks and Archival Context (, accessed July 30, 2021.
  5. Ecton, Zales Nelson. The Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress - Retro Member. Retrieved on July 30, 2021.
  6. Zales N. Ecton. Our Campaigns.
  7. MT US Senate - D Primary Race - Jul 16, 1946. Our Campaigns. Retrieved July 31, 2021.
  8. MT US Senate Race - Nov 05, 1946. Our Campaigns. Retrieved July 31, 2021.
  9. MT US Senate Race - Nov 04, 1952. Our Campaigns. Retrieved July 31, 2021.
  10. "U.S. Sen. Zales Ecton dies," The Billings Gazette, April 2, 1961.

External links

  • Papers via Montana State University