Everything about John Ware seems larger than life – stuff that legends are made of.
He was born a slave in South Carolina and grew up picking cotton.
When he was freed at the end of the American Civil War, he headed west and learned skills and the life style of a cowboy in Texas. He took part in mass cattle drives and eventually joined one that arrived in what was to become Alberta in 1882.
He was a big man, and strong. Legend has it that he could stop a steer head-on and wrestle it to the ground. Other stories say that he could lift an 18-month-old steer and turn it on its side for branding or trip a horse by hand and hold it on its back to be shod.
He established a ranch and started competing as a steer wrestler, winning the event at the 1893 Calgary Fair. Ware helped pioneer rodeo techniques that would become staples of the Stampede.
When he died in 1905, Nigger John’s funeral was one of the biggest Calgary had ever seen.
The Ware family founded two ranches. The first was on the Sheep River, near Millarville. The second was north of Millicent, on the banks of the Red Deer River and Ware Creek, west of Dinosaur Provincial Park, where the original Ware cabin is preserved.