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Chief executive officer of Phillips Petroleum Company and chief of the Cherokee Nation, William Wayne Keeler was born April 5, 1908, in Dalhart, Texas, and grew up in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. As a high school student he began working summers for Phillips and continued part-time while studying chemical engineering at the University of Kansas. Before completing a degree, Keeler accepted a full-time position with Phillips in Kansas City. During World War II he supervised construction of a refinery in Mexico. By war's end the young oilman had been promoted to manager of Phillips' refining department.

Keeler, who was one-sixteenth Cherokee, was named vice chairman of the tribe's executive committee in 1948. When the appointed chief died in 1949, Pres. Harry S. Truman named Keeler to replace him. For the next quarter century Keeler worked to reestablish Cherokee sovereignty and government. In1971, after his selection as the tribe's first elected chief since 1903, he presided over the drafting of a new Cherokee constitution, which marked the final step in reestablishment of representative tribal government.

As Keeler rebuilt Cherokee government, he rose steadily at Phillips, in 1967 becoming its president and chief executive officer. In 1973 Keeler reached Phillips' mandatory retirement age, and two years later he stepped down as chief of the Cherokee Nation. On August 24, 1987, after four years of failing health, he died in Bartlesville at the age of seventy-nine.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Marjorie J. Lowe, " 'Let's Make It Happen': W.W. Keeler and Cherokee Renewal," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 74 (Summer 1996). Brad Agnew, "Keeler, William Wayne," in The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, 1986-1990, Vol. 2 (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1998). "William W. Keeler," Marion E. Gridley, Contemporary American Indian Leaders (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1972). "Keeler, William Wayne," Biographical Dictionary of Indians of the Americas, ed. Gail Hamlin Wilson Vol. 1 (2nd ed.; Newport Beach, Calif.: American Indian Publishers, Inc., 1991). Sandra Sac Parker, "William Wayne Keeler, 1908-1987: Cherokee Tribal Leader and Businessman," in Notable Native Americans, ed. Sharon Malinowski and George H. J. Abrams (Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1995).

Brad Agnew

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