John Ware was born into slavery on a cotton plantation near Georgetown in South Carolina. His freedom came at the end of the American Civil War. At the age of 19, he headed west to Texas, hoping there may be opportunities for an uneducated, emancipated slave such as himself. Little did he know at the time that his future lay in the frozen lands of the Canadian frontier.
In 1882, Ware drove 3,000 cattle north for the North West Cattle Company. This cattle company would later become known as the Bar U Ranch.
Ware was reputed to have once stopped a cattle stampede with only a horse and six bullets. He made his way up to the area which would become the province of Alberta (Alberta did not become a province until 1905), working first at the North West Cattle Company Ranch and later at the Quorn Ranch.
Ware gained quite a reputation as a rancher; he was known for his skills with the lariat (or lasso), and he was even more renowned for his legendary horsemanship: it was said that he had never been thrown by a horse. He also pioneered steer wrestling, winning his first competition by a wide margin at the Calgary summer fair of 1893.
Ware distinguished himself as a gentleman and was well regarded by most other ranchers and rural residents for his kind nature and ranching talents. Unfortunately, because of his colour, he was sometimes treated rather badly; this was particularly true in Calgary, where he was denied access to certain public services, harassed by police, and even arrested without cause.
Not easily discouraged, Ware fought through drought and winter storms. With hard work and good cowboy sense, he earned himself a homestead. He built his ranch on Sheep Creek near Turner Valley, Alberta, a community south of Calgary. He later relocated to an area along the Red Deer River, (near Duchess, east of Calgary), where there were fewer settlers. He lived there with his wife Mildred Lewis, whom he married in 1892, and their five children.
Unfortunately, his life with Mildred was cut short: in 1905, she fell ill and was sent to Calgary Hospital where she died of typhoid and pneumonia. Tragedy struck again later that year when John Ware’s horse tripped in a badger hole and fell on top of him, killing him instantly. Held 14 September 1905 at the Calgary Baptist Church, Ware's was the largest funeral Calgary had ever seen. People from all over Alberta came out to bid farewell to Alberta’s legendary Black cowboy, John Ware.
More information on John Ware is available through the Glenbow Museum's Web site, Mavericks: An Incorrigible History of Alberta. Simply follow the link to Ranching which appears in the top right corner of the Web site's graphical interface, then follow the link from the photo of John Ware (second from the left in the top row). Please note that you will require Flash Player to view the Mavericks: An Incorrigible History of Alberta Web site.