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There is no man who has taken more active and helpful part in the development of Bartlesville and Washington county than George B. Keeler. He has resided in this section of the state from early pioneer times and was adopted into the Cherokee tribe in 1872. He understands the sign language of all of the Indian tribes and speaks the Osage tongue. He has been in a way a connecting link between the Indian life and customs of an early day and the modern civilization and progress. His business activity has covered a wide scope, leading directly to the improvement, settlement and up building of this section of the country, where he has lived from pioneer times, Nelson F. Carr being the only white man who has resided in this part of the state for a longer period.
Mr. Keeler came to the southwest from Illinois, his birth having occurred at Hennepin, Putnam county, February 7, 1850. His father, Alson Keeler, was a native of Kyler, Courtland county, New York, and in an early day removed to Illinois, where he resided until 1856. He had followed merchandising in the quaint old town of Hennepin. on the Illinois river, but when his son, George, was a lad of six years he removed with his family to Vernon county, Wisconsin, where he remained for about a decade, devoting three or four years of that period to farming. He afterward returned to Illinois, settling in Belvidere and in 1868 he removed to Iowa, establishing a store in Boone and thus following merchandising as he had done in Belvidere. In 1870 he removed to Glenwood, Iowa, there engaging in farming and in 1885 he went to Ventura, California, where he lived retired throughout his remaining days, passing away in 1890.
His wife, who bore the maiden name of Ann McNamara, was a daughter of Timothy McNamara of Worcester, Massachusetts, and passed away in Belvidere, Illinois, in 1868. She was the mother of three sons and three daughters, of whom George B. Keeler was the second in order of birth.
The first two decades of his life George B. Keeler spent at his parents’ home and attended the common schools at Viroqua, Wisconsin, continuing his education to the age of eighteen years. In 1871 he became a trader with the Osage Nation in the employ of Louis P. Chouteau. It was in the latter part of that year that the first railroad in what is now the state of Oklahoma was being built across the eastern section of the state. In December, 1871, his employer, Mr. Chouteau, was killed by an outlaw who was intoxicated and came to his home and when Mr. Chouteau showed him the door he turned and killed him. Mr. Keeler afterward closed out the trading business for Mr. Chouteau ‘s mother and later became connected with the firm of Dunlap & Rankin traders, who were licensed by the government. After one year Mr. Rankin disposed of his interest to John Flora and Mr. Keeler was then sent by the firm to buy Buffalo robes from the Indians of the various tribes. It was thus that he gained intimate and comprehensive knowledge of the various Indian tribes and their customs and habits. He speaks the Osage language and understands the sign language of all of the tribes.
On August 12,1872, Mr. Keeler was united in marriage to Miss Josie Gilstrap, a member of the Cherokee Nation, and two years later he was made a member of the tribe. Following his marriage he retained his position with the firm of Dunlap & Flora, with residence at Pawhuska until 1874, when he became a clerk in the employ of Jacob Bartles, after whom the town of Bartlesville was named. A year later Mr. Keeler began farming on a creek that was called Keeler creek in his honor and his attention was thus given to agricultural pursuits until 1884, during which time be successfully engaged in handling cattle on the open range, carrying on farming and cattle raising until he joined William H. Johnstone in organizing the mercantile firm of Johnstone & Keeler. Mr. Keeler’s ability contributed in large measure to the success of the undertaking. The firm erected the first store building on the present site of the city of Bartlesville and there conducted a general merchandise establishment, selling goods of all kinds and also carrying on an extensive business in handling cattle. The partnership was maintained for twelve years, at the end of which time Mr. Keeler purchased the interest of Mr. Johnstone and continued to engage actively in merchandising until 1908, when he sold out.
For many years and in various ways Mr. Keeler has been closely associated with the development and progress of Oklahoma and with the utilization of its natural resources. In 1893 he took five of the first oil leases ever taken in the Cherokee Nation of the Cherokee government and ice, April 1897; trade deal the Cherokee the Cudahy people who drilled the first well. This was on Mr. Keeler’s lease which is now in the city park of Bartlesville. At that time, however, there was no way to market the oil, so this valuable property was practically a loss. In 1899, however, the Santa Fe Railroad was built through and changed the question of shipping. Through government restriction, however, Mr. Keeler did not make money out of his early ventures in oil but is now drawing large royalties from the National Oil Company of Cleveland, Ohio.
From time to time he has broadened the scope of his interests and business connections and thereby has become a most valued and important factor in commercial development and progress here. He was one of the organizers of the Union Machine Company of Bartlesville, manufacturers of pumping machines, engines, jacks and clutch pulleys.
He is also a director of the Water Company and is vice president and one of the directors of the First National Bank. In 1915 he and his associates built the fine modern structure known as the First National Bank building. Mr. Keeler has also owned and sold five additions to the town and has but a small number of lots remaining.
His property possessions include twenty-four residences, six store buildings and two small rooming houses and from his holdings he derives a very substantial annual income. The Sutton-Keeler building, one of the fine structures of the city, was erected by him and is a six-story reinforced structure which was completed in the spring of 1915, his associates in the undertaking being A. D. Morton, Dr. G. W. Sutton of Cleveland, Oklahoma, and Dr. F. R. Sutton of Bartlesville.
This is one of the finest business structures in northern Oklahoma, the main floor being occupied by the First National Bank and possessing, splendid equipment for carrying on the banking business.
By his first marriage Mr. Keeler had nine children, of whom only three are living: Charles R., William, Frank, Albert, Fred, Maude, Lillie A., Pearl and Nina. The mother passed away in 1893. In 1895 Mr. Keeler wedded Mrs. Josie C. (Blythe) Cass of Vinita, Oklahoma, who died in 1915.
She had two children by her first marriage: Mrs. A. D. Morton of Bartlesville; and Bruce A. Cass of Los Angeles, California. Since the death of his wife Mr. Keeler has made his home at the Maire Hotel.
In politics be has always been a republican and has been an exemplary member of the Masonic fraternity for many years, having attained the thirty-second degree of the Scottish Rite. He also affiliates with the Woodmen of the World and with the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks.
Mr. Keeler has resided in Washington county since 1872, or for a period of half a century. He is familiar with all the events that have shaped the history of this region and has been closely associated with many lines of activity which have led to the progress and up building of the state.
Bartlesville, indeed, owes much to his efforts, for his labors have at all times been of a most practical and resultant character. He has ever adhered to high principles and there is perhaps no man of wealth and prosperity in this community whose life has been to a higher degree the expression of business integrity and reliability. All who know him speak of him in terms of the highest regard and his name is inscribed among those who have been most active and prominent in shaping the development of this section of the state.