Ayesha Clough thought she was alone in not knowing who John Ware was. She was new to Alberta and figured everyone here was familiar with the cowboy who has been credited with helping forge the province’s cattle industry.
“I found out about him through the Canada Post stamp that came out in 2012,” said Clough. “I thought I was the only one who didn’t know about this guy because he’s Canada’s most legendary cowboy.”
Clough was shocked to discover she wasn’t the only one unaware of Ware’s contributions to Alberta.
“So few people know his story,” said Clough, who then decided to do something about it.
Clough has written a children’s book called Howdy, I’m John Ware and has started a Kickstarter campagin to try to get it to print.
“It takes about $20,000 to $25,000 to publish a book,” said Clough, who operates Red Barn Books out of Carstairs, Alta.
The campaign has set a goal of $7,500 to do a first print run of the book.
“He (John Ware) was really one of the pioneers to Alberta,” said Clough. “He brought the foundation herd of cattle across the border to what is today the Bar U Ranch and he really helped to establish cattle ranching in this province.
“His story is really the story of our province,” she said.
Ware, a once enslaved Black man, made his way to Alberta in 1882 where he quickly made a name for himself as an excellent horseman and cattleman.
“I love the added layer of the black history to it and just what an amazing role model this man is having faced enslavement, civil war, not being able to read or write, discrimination, coming to a new country, leaving everything he had behind, facing floods and sickness and yet somehow he manages to just keep going and to be kind and to be so helpful to everybody.”
Hugh Rockwood illustrated the book and feels Ware’s story is an important one to tell on a number of different levels.
“He gained so much respect that it transcended colour, it transcended all of that,” said Rockwood.
“It was just he was respected for what he can do, his talent.”
Rockwood also believes John Ware’s story will resonate with the book’s intended audience of eight to 12 year olds.
“A young black kid might look at this and say, ‘Oh my God, I love cowboys and I didn’t know that there was someone like this!’ Then, a young white kid might look at this and say, ‘This is a cool guy… it doesn’t matter that he’s black, he’s just a cool guy, he’s a cool character,’” he said.
Clough says she sought out Rockwood, who is black, specifically to draw the images in the book.
“I think he just brings that extra layer of richness to it,” said Clough adding she also asked historian Cheryl Foggo to review the book to ensure its historical accuracy.
“Him (John Ware) being a black rancher… it’s nice in that sense too for kids in my community to see something like that and to understand that yeah, you are a part also. There is history of you in all of this,” said Rockwood.
Clough is hoping to do a first run print of the book as early as March. Long term, she’s hoping schools across the province will start to carry it in their libraries.
“We’re going to have a lesson plan in it, we’re going to have further learning so that if they (schools) want to go to the Bar U and see one of the buildings that John helped build or if they want to go to Dinasaur Provincial Park where John Ware’s cabin is actually preserved or they want to go to the Glenbow Museum or visit his grave in Calgary, there’s so much learning that can go on around this book,” she said.
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