Home |  PublicationsEncyclopedia |  Keeler, William Wayne

The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


The 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 he completed 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's refining department.

Keeler, who was one-sixteenth Cherokee, was named vice chair 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. In 1971, 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 steadily rose at Phillips, in 1967 becoming its president and chief executive officer. In 1973 Keeler reached Phillips's 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.

Brad Agnew


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," Contemporary American Indian Leaders (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1972).

Marjorie J. Lowe, "'Let's Make It Happen': W. W. Keeler and Cherokee Renewal," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 74 (Summer 1996).

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).


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Brad Agnew, “Keeler, William Wayne,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=KE002.

Copyright and Terms of Use

No part of this site may be construed as in the public domain.

Copyright to all articles and other content in the online and print versions of The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History is held by the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS). This includes individual articles (copyright to OHS by author assignment) and corporately (as a complete body of work), including web design, graphics, searching functions, and listing/browsing methods. Copyright to all of these materials is protected under United States and International law.

Users agree not to download, copy, modify, sell, lease, rent, reprint, or otherwise distribute these materials, or to link to these materials on another web site, without authorization of the Oklahoma Historical Society. Individual users must determine if their use of the Materials falls under United States copyright law's "Fair Use" guidelines and does not infringe on the proprietary rights of the Oklahoma Historical Society as the legal copyright holder of The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and part or in whole.