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John Ware and Family
*The birth of John Ware is celebrated on this date in c. 1845. He was a Black Canadian cowboy who was influential in the early years of the burgeoning ranching industry in Southern Alberta.
John Ware was born into slavery on a plantation near Georgetown, South Carolina. However, on his marriage certificate, Ware himself stated to be born in Tennessee. After the American Civil War, he left for Texas, where he learned the skills of a rancher and became a cowboy. Ware then drove to Canada, driving cattle from Texas to Montana. In 1882, he was hired to help bring 3,000 head of cattle from the United States to Sir Hugh Allan’s North-West Cattle Co in Alberta. After delivering his charge near Calgary, he found work at the Bar U and Quorn ranches before starting his ranch near the Red Deer River. By 1900, he and his wife, Mildred Lewis, had five children.
He moved from the Calgary Region to the northeast of the village of Duchess, Alberta. In 1902 his first home was destroyed by the spring flood. He rebuilt his home on higher ground overlooking a stream called Ware Creek. In the spring of 1905, Mildred died of pneumonia, and despite being a master horseman, John Ware was killed only months later when his horse tripped in a badger hole crushing its rider and breaking his neck on September 11, 1905. Ware's funeral was reported to be one of the largest held in the early days of Calgary.
Remembered for his excellent horsemanship, he was among the first ranchers in Alberta. Like any folk hero, there is a wide range of tales about his ability to eat, ride, and shoot, all contributing to the cowboy lore of the time. It is said that he was never tossed from a wild horse and that he popularized steer wrestling, which would then become a highlight of the Calgary Stampede. The story of John Ware is that of a remarkable figure in history who helped to lay the foundations of the ranching industry in western Canada and, at the same time, defied stereotypes. Ware became one of the most well-respected figures on the Albertan frontier and is still an important part of Alberta's history.
Several geographical features near the Wares' ranch are named in their honor: John Ware Ridge (formerly Nigger John Ridge), Mount Ware, and Ware Creek. Other namesakes include "John Ware Junior High School" in southwest Calgary, the John Ware building at Calgary's Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), a polytechnic undergraduate college, and the John Ware 4-H Beef Club in Duchess, Alberta.
In 1958 the modest log cabin that was the family home from 1900 to 1905 was relocated from its prairie setting near Millicent, Alberta, to the Red Deer River valley in Dinosaur Provincial Park, to the east. The cabin was restored and rededicated in 2002. Diamond Joe White, a musician from Alberta, has released a song titled "High Rider: The John Ware Story." None of John and Mildred's five children who lived to adulthood had descendants.
In 2006, a small fragment of wood from the cabin at Dinosaur Provincial Park was contributed to Canada’s Six String Nation project. The fragment now serves as the top-most element on the pick-guard assembly of Voyageur, the guitar at the heart of the project. Canada Post issued a commemorative stamp featuring John Ware to celebrate Black History Month 2012. He was the subject of Cheryl Foggo's 2020 documentary film John Ware Reclaimed.
John Ware's Cow Country by J. W. Grant MacEwan (Edmonton: Institute of Applied Art, 1960. Second edition, Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1973. Third edition, Vancouver: Greystone Books, 1995.)
"High Rider" by Bill Gallaher. Touchwood Editions. ISBN 978-1-77151-114-8. A children’s book,
“Howdy, I’m John Ware” by Ayesha Clough, with illustrations by Hugh Rookwood, was published in 2020. Red Barn Books. ISBN 9781999108786.