Born in Oklahoma Territory in 1903, Keith later graduated from Northwestern State Teachers College and the University of Oklahoma where he earned his Master's Degree in history. For his thesis, Keith traveled around eastern Oklahoma and discovered fascinating information about the Civil War. Filling several notebooks, Keith recorded the words of the veterans. These interviews later provided the basis for his 1959 Newbery Medal book Rifles for Watie. Later this historical novel won the 1964 Lewis Carroll Shelf Award.
As well as being a writer, Keith worked as a teacher before becoming the University of Oklahoma Sports Publicity Director. He held this position for thirty-nine years. Upon retiring, Keith put much time and effort into his writing, with Oklahoma serving as the setting for all his works. He penned books until his death on February 24, 1998.
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