This Week in History


John Ware: the Cowboy, the Legend

For the week of February 24, 2014

On March 2, 1892, celebrated black cowboy John Ware and Mildred Lewis were married in Calgary. Ware had a true passion for ranching and has become a legendary figure in Western Canada.

A stamp issued in commemoration of John Ware
© Canada Post Corporation / 2012
John Ware grew up a slave in South Carolina but moved to Texas as a rancher when he was emancipated in 1865. In Idaho in 1882, he met John Lynch who hired him to drive 3,000 head of cattle to the Bar U Ranch in Alberta.

In Alberta, John Ware became a folk hero. Though he faced racism, he was able to overcome prejudice by mastering cowboy skills such as cattle driving, roping and even steer wrestling! He became known throughout Western Canada for never having been thrown by an unbroken horse. Ware also earned respect for his friendliness. He helped many novice ranchers get started, and always had a warm smile.

The story of John Ware is filled with legend and spectacular stories that have been passed down through generations. An impressive tale holds that he walked 40 kilometres through a raging blizzard to bring medication to his sickly wife. Another story recounts a trick that was played on him when he was given a mad horse to ride. Rather than falling or being crushed, Ware stayed in the saddle while the wild beast flung itself about.

The Bar U Ranch National Historic Site was one of the longest running ranches in Western Canada and is now a great place for families to learn about Canada’s Wild West
© Parks Canada / J. Pleau / 2003

In an event unbefitting of his renowned horsemanship, in September 1905, just months after the death of his wife Mildred, John Ware died when his horse tripped in a badger hole and fell on him. In testament to his friendly manner, his funeral was the largest seen in Calgary at the time, and friends and admirers travelled from all over the province to pay their last respects.

The Bar U Ranch National Historic Site, where John Ware first worked in Canada, is emblematic of the Ranching Industry, which is a National Historic Event. To learn more about early Alberta ranching, please see "It's Good To Be Alberta Bound".

February is Black History Month! To learn more about black pioneers please see  A Cry for Land, Black Pioneers Head to the Prairies and Black Pioneers in British Columbia.

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