John Ware is one of the most beloved characters from Alberta’s frontier days. His achievements and adventures—as well as the stories that sprung up around them—made him a folk hero in his own time.
Born into slavery on a plantation in South Carolina, John Ware was 20 when he travelled west to Texas after the American Civil War in 1865. He became an experienced cowboy and was hired to drive cattle north to Montana. He later drove cattle to Bar U Ranch in Calgary’s foothills.
Ware was known for impressive rides on unbroken horses. He was also a skilled steer wrestler, and won his first competition at the Calgary Summer Fair in 1893. The Macleod Gazette referred to him as: “not only one of the best natured and most obliging fellows in the country, but he is one of the shrewdest cow men.”
Ware acquired property on the Sheep Creek near Millarville, bought a small herd, and married Mildred Lewis in 1892. In 1902, the Ware family bought a horse ranch near Brooks. While his strengths and skills were many, it was his ability to succeed in the face of early 19th century racism that truly sets John Ware apart.
Tragedy struck in 1905 when Mildred became seriously ill and died. Ware died a few months later when his horse stepped in a badger hole and stumbled, crushing him.
Several places in southern Alberta bear his name--Mount Ware, Ware Creek, John Ware Ridge, and John Ware School in Calgary. The John Ware Building at SAIT includes the Four Nines cafeteria, named after his brand—9999. In February, 2012, Canada Post featured his image on a stamp, as part of the Black History Month series.
Want to learn more?
Read The Duchess Ranch of Old John Ware by James Davidge and Bob Prodor, John Ware's Cow Country by Grant MacEwan and Peoples of Alberta: Portraits of Cultural Diversity, Howard Palmer and Tamara Palmer, editors.