“For decades after his death, in bunkhouses and around campfires, Albertans told and retold stories of John’s feats of strength and horsemanship. The told stories, too, of his loyalty, his generosity, and his kindness to fellow ranch hands and neighbours.” The Canadians, John Ware
It was no exception for us. As we sat around the campfire with new friends we drank coffee and listened to stories of John Ware.
“He was a slave from South Carolina. His master asked him to break a horse and when he tried he was quickly thrown off. After this, he was beaten. This was the first and last time John Ware ever fell off a horse.”
John’s newly found skill became very useful as he emerged from a life of slavery to that of a free man working as a cowboy. His cowboy days started in Texas where he earned the reputation of being a good horseman. Not long after he found himself driving a herd of cattle from Texas to Montana.
“He came North to Montana during a cattle drive. During the drive he was given the worst job a cowboy could have, as dragman, and the horse no one else would ride. However, he didn’t complain and after a few days of riding and learning, he asked for a better horse. By this time he’d earned everyone’s respect and a much better horse.”
From Montana, John headed to Alberta where he started working at the Bar U Ranch. This is when he began to save the money that he would eventually use to buy his first ranch outside of Millarville.
The best story I heard was of his move from Millarville to a new property he’d purchased on the Red Deer River.
“In order to get to the new ranch, they needed to get the cattle across the Bow River, which was flooded. The only way to do this was to drive them through Calgary and take them over one of the bridges in the city. He hired a team and during the wee morning hours, they drove the herd into the city, on MacLeod Trail and to the river. It was here that the police stopped him. Taking cattle through the city had been outlawed. He was told to turn around.
However, suspicious of racism and faced with the prospect of driving cattle through a flooded river, he instead made the decision to wake up while Calgary slept and drive the cattle over the bridge and out of the city before anyone knew what was happening. After this, he never looked back.
In 1892, John married the daughter of a settler family: Mildred Lewis. Together they had a life rich with humour, children, horses and (I’m sure) campfire stories. John is buried in Calgary’s Union Cemetery with his wife, Mildred, Daniel Lewis (Mildred’s dad), and Jessie Lewis (one of Mildred’s sisters).