At the end of John Ware’s cattle drive north, he arrived in the dusty cattle town of Calgary, Alberta. Having taken a look at the place, the people and the opportunities, he decided to settle there.
Life In Calgary, Alberta
This seemed like a good move considering Alberta never had experienced slavery. This territory was just opening up for settlement. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police had established “law and order” on the Canadian side of the border here on the plains of Western Canada. With fairly good relations between the white settlers and the First Nations (Indian) tribes, he probably faced less racial discrimination there than he would have experienced in the American south.
So, Alberta was his new home.
The legend begins
What he did in his new home made him legendary amongst cattlemen in Calgary and throughout the Big Sky Country.
He quickly found steady employment at the Bar-U and Quorn ranches which were south of Calgary. In an era where roughness, dishonesty, bullying and lawlessness seemed normal, Mr. Ware showed honesty, skill, hard work and decency.
He was known as
“a man of unquestioned honesty and agreeable nature…[who] boasted the rare distinction of never having been thrown from a horse. At roughriding and roping he was an expert’’ (Turner, 1950, pg. 461).
His skills at bronco busting were legendary. Bronco busting is not for the faint-hearted. It is a bone jarring activity and was a vital part of ranching in those days to prepare a steer for branding. A steer needed to be captured and held so it could be “labelled” by a ranch’s “brand” which was burnt into the hide of the animal near it’s business end. This brand ensured the owner of the animal could be clearly identified if it was rustled or stolen. Most significantly, the brand could not be taken off without killing the animal.
According to his reputation, in an era when the demanding skills of a cowboy were highly valued, John Ware’s skills exceeded them all in Alberta. When John Ware entered an establishment in Calgary, everyone knew him.
John Ware and friends. Source: Wikipedia
The legend of John Ware
Because of his courage and enormous strength, the First Nations people called him “Matoxy Sex Apee Quin” (bad black white man) and wondered if he had a connection to the spirit world.
Now, legends being legends, lots of yarns have been twisted making John Ware into a giant like Paul Bunyan. Some of these include:
John Ware discovered Turner Valley oil fields with a flick of a match
John Ware was the last rancher to use a Calgary bridge as a cattle crossing
John Ware was never thrown from a horse
He invented steer wrestling 20 years before the Calgary Stampede
Camp cooks profess to feeding him on over-sized platters and to watch him eat sandwiches the size of a family bible
How much of these legends are true, well, you decide. It is quite possible that they are all true.
Nevertheless, it is true that he did use a Calgary bridge as a cattle crossing.
It was forbidden to drive cattle through Calgary - a perfectly reasonable law - except when your new ranch is on the opposite side of Calgary from your old ranch. That was exactly John Ware’s problem. He had bought a new ranch but had to get his herd there. But Calgary was in the way. What to do? He brought his herd to the edge of the Bow river and waited until nightfall and in the middle of the night he charged his cattle across the bridge and into history.
He was the last rancher to use a Calgary bridge as a cattle crossing.