I should mention that Nettie Ware did not speak much about that the cowboy part of his life. Much of what I wrote has come from other sources (see bibliography below). What she spoke about the most was the kind of father John Ware was.
John Ware the father
Nettie Ware told me that he was a good man and a good father. He had raised his five children in a Christian household and taught them to respect one another and to “treat one another as they would like to be treated”. Certainly, based on my memories of Nettie, John Ware had done a good job of raising his children.
In 1882, John met the former Torontonian Mildred Lewis (I knew there was a Ontario connection somewhere) and they married, settling on a ranch just north of the village of Duchess, Albert along the Red Deer River.
Unfortunately, his homestead was washed away in the spring flood of 1902.
John Ware rebuilt the cabin on higher ground overlooking a stream which today is called Ware Creek. By then they had five children.
Three years later in 1905, sadly, Mildred Ware died of pneumonia. Tragically, that same year John Ware died when his horse tripped after stepping into a gopher hole. The horn of the saddle killed him instantly.
Nettie and her four brothers and sisters were bereaved of both of their parents in the same year. Nettie was only 12 years old when both her mother and father passed away.
John Ware's Cabin (Now in Dinosaur Provincial Part). Source: Wikipedia
John Ware and Canada - a hero to Canadians of African origin
John Ware was indeed a legendary cowboy, a skilled bronco buster, and most importantly a gentleman and family man.
John Ware died 12 days after Alberta entered into confederation with the new nation of Canada. And it does seem fitting. John was a decent man. He was highly respected and a very talented - even legendary - cowboy, and he was black.
His colour did not matter in his new home. What mattered was his abilities and his kindness to others. He became a symbol of the tolerance and decency with which his new home, Canada, has and continues to aspired to.
And he has become a hero of the Canadians of African origin.
I can’t recall what Nettie said had happened to her and her siblings after her parents died. John Ware’s children would certainly have been taken care of, even as he had provided good service to many others.
However, I do know that Nettie settled in Vulcan, Alberta. I believe she became a teacher. It was during her time in Vulcan that she got to know my landlady who eventually moved to Calgary to start a rooming house for students.
Eventually, Nettie Ware began travelling throughout Alberta speaking about her father to school children. In 1971 the Province of Alberta honoured her with “Alberta’s Pioneer Daughter of the Year”.
Janet (Nettie) Ware honoured by the Province of Alberta. Source: unknown
Nettie kindly gave me a book about the history of John Ware and she even signed it for me. Somehow, frustratingly, I lost it in my travels. (Update. I managed to find another copy and it sits proudly in my bookcase of Canadian classics.)
As things go, I lost contact with both Nettie and my former landlady but I have often told my story about meeting Nettie Ware and learning about this great Canadian cowboy.
This story would not be complete without my small memorial to Janet Amanda “Nettie” Ware. She rests in peace next to her sister in Vulcan, Alberta. Another connection that is important to me: the year she died in 1989, I started university; the year I first met her in 1978, I started an adult education program in Calgary for those who had not finished high school.
Janet (Nettie) Ware. Source: findagrave
It is an important story to keep alive. It is part of the heritage of Canada. Canadians of African descent can be rightly proud of John Ware, as can all Canadians. From it’s founding, despite some serious mistakes along the way, Canada has striven to be a home for all people, no matter their colour or nationality. For John Ware, it represented freedom - a freedom from racism and intolerance. And Alberta has been proud of one of it’s own who showed others what decency and honesty and hard work is all about.
Here are some other websites for further reading. Googling John Ware will retrieve lots of information on John Ware.
- Find a Grave Memorials Janet Amanda “Nettie” Ware
- CowboycountryTV: Summary of the life of Nettie Ware
- Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Ware_(cowboy)
- Canadian Encyclopedia: John Ware
- Youtube: The Canadians: John Ware
A few books about John Ware include:
- John Ware’s Cow Country by by Grant MacEwan. Book written by Alberta’s former Lieutenant Governor of Alberta. This is the one that I lost (with Nettie’s signature!).
- The Story of John Ware by R. Breon, V. Cudjoe, M. McLoughlin (Illustrator) Children’s illustrated book about our famous cowboy.
Copyright © 2005-2020
A previous version of this article was provided to Oxford University Press Canada for use in their Canadian high school text book Inside Track 1.