Black Pioneers of Southern Alberta

Featured Pioneer Profile

John Ware
(circa 1845 - 13 September, 1905). This former slave turned cowboy was noted for his remarkable horsemanship, his prodigious strength, his good-natured humour and general kindness, and his loyalty to friends and neighbours.

Excerpt from David H. Breen, "WARE, JOHN," in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Universite Laval, 2003-, accessed February 4, 2017,

by John F. Rauchert - February 05, 2017

February has been celebrated in Canada as Black History Month since 1979 and was officially recognized by the House of Commons in 1995 following a motion by Jean Augustine, the first Black woman to be elected to the Parliament of Canada.

This year, the 150th since Confederation, is especially significant as the Government of Canada has chosen Viola Desmond as the face of Canada's ten-dollar bank note, "in recognition of her impact on the civil rights and freedoms movement in Canada".

Therefore, it is appropriate that we highlight some of those Black pioneers that can be found in the SAPD short profiles.

While their identities were often masked by a racial epithet which makes our modern sensibilities cringe, Black pioneers do appear in the early historical record of Southern Alberta. How many of their stories will remain hidden and untold may never be known. For additional stories of Black pioneers, see Blacks in Deep Snow: Black Pioneers in Canada by Colin A. Thomson.

Daniel Vant Lewis

Daniel Lewis came to Shepard in 1889. He was born in Virginia, USA on May 5, 1833 and died in Calgary on September 13, 1916. It appears that his family came to Canada between 1833 and 1837, settling in Toronto. There he married Charlotte Campbell on December 28 1868 in Toronto, York, Ontario. Charlotte was born in Ontario in 1849 and died at Calgary, Alberta in 1935. They had a family of eleven children, three of whom died in infancy. One of their daughters, Mildred Jane, married John Ware on March 2, 1892 in Calgary.

According to Daniel's great granddaughter Grant MacEwan documented him as being a master carpenter whose elegant railings and details were in demand throughout the homes of the rich in the Calgary area.

Annie (Auntie) Saunders

Annie, who preferred to be called Auntie, was born about 1836 in the US. She came to southern Alberta in 1877 with Mary Macleod who met her while on a steamboat travelling up the Missouri River to Fort Benton, Montana. Mary was enroute to take up residence with her husband, Colonel James Farquharson Macleod of the NWMP. Annie was fond of saying that "Me and Mrs. Macleod were the first white women in the region". Initially a cook and general domestic in the household, she would eventually act as a nanny to the Macleod children. Annie lived in the Macleod household from 1877 to 1880. When the Macleods moved to Pincher Creek in 1880, Annie went with them. She remained affiliated with the family until the 1890s but it was in Pincher Creek where she would strike out on her own. Annie started three businesses in Pincher Creek, a restaurant, a laundry housed in a small log building next to the Alberta Hotel on Main Street and a boarding house for children sent to the Pincher Creek School. Annie died on July 19, 1898 at Pincher Creek. Her funeral service was well attended.

For a fuller examination of the life of Annie Saunders refer to the ground-breaking work of Cheryl Foggo in the following articles:

Molly Smith

Molly Smith, came up to Medicine Hat from Montana in the 1880s and opened a laundry and bootlegging business, claiming to be the first white woman in town. Molly, apparently dispensed her illicit wares from special leather paniers built into her bustle and brassiere. Soon there were two very competitive laundry and bootlegging operations in Medicine Hat, the other being run by Slippery Annie Barclay. The pair of rivals made good news copy for the fledgling local newspaper, especially after they had a cocktail or two. On one occasion, Molly took after Annie with a butcher knife and a pail of very hot water threatening to skin Annie's hide.

With Molly it is difficult to know what is true and what are tall tales. Another account of the fight with Slippery Annie has Molly grabbing her butcher knife and about to use it when Annie seized a pail of boiling wash water. A standoff was declared. No matter the truth, both stories point to one rough and tough frontier woman.

Green Walters

Green Walters rode with the trail herds coming up from Idaho with one of Tom Lynch's trail herds to Alberta in 1883. He worked for the Oxley, the Bar-U and was long associated with the CC Ranch. Walters was a great round-up cook and ran a tight wagon. While on the CC Ranch, he started a small herd of his own using the Ox Yoke brand. Around 1890 Walters settled along the North Fork of the Highwood River and built a cabin, where he had previously cut logs and rails for the Bar U Ranch. He brought his few head of cattle with him and was getting a good start on a herd when he badly froze his feet and had to have most of his toes amputated. This made it impossible to walk and put an end to his ranching career. He sold out and returned south to Kansas, where he spent the rest of his days.

Additional information about Green can be found in Leaves from the Medicine Tree.

John Ware

John and his trail partner, Billy Moody, were hired in Idaho to help trail a herd of cattle coming to Fort Macleod and High River in 1882. Later, he worked at the Bar-U and then at the Quorn Ranch. In 1889 he established his own ranch located near Millarville. In 1892 he married Mildred Jane Lewis of Shepard. They had six children.

This short description hardly contains a drop in the bucket that is the full story of John Ware, better described in other sources, here are just a few:

Jess(e) Williams

Williams gets a passing reference in the profiles in connection to the murder of James H. Adams.

James (Jim) H. Adams was born on the Isle of Arran, Scotland. His parents came to North America when he was an infant and settled at Rockland, Westmorland—New Brunswick. At the age of 17 he was apprenticed to the ship joiner's trade, but after his father purchased a farm, Jim joined him in taking charge of the farm. In the spring of 1883 he came West to Calgary in the company of J.A. McKelvie in order to earn money to pay off a debt on the farm. He quickly became a respected and promising young man of the frontier town and was a charter member of the Masonic Lodge, Bow River, Number One.

On February 8 of 1884, while assisting in McKelvie's store in the evening, he was murdered and the store robbed. At the time of his murder Adams was in the employ of James Walker.

It was reported at the time, that Williams was tracked through the snow to a shack at Shaganappi Point in West Calgary, and hotheads in the group were all for stringing him up but were prevented by the intervention of George Murdoch, the future first Mayor of Calgary. After a trial in which Williams was defended by James Lougheed, he was found guilty and hanged on March 29, 1884. This gave him the ignoble honour of being the first person to be hanged in the emerging town of Calgary.

Williams was born in Texas in 1841 and moved north after the Civil War (in which he claimed to have served as a soldier). From Detroit, he drifted to Canada where he worked as a cook for construction crews on the Canadian Pacific Railway, a job which eventually brought him West. After completion of the railway, he worked as a cook on a ranch. In late 1883 he came to Calgary where he worked as a cook for two months at the Far West Hotel, but he had been out of work for two weeks before the murder.

An account of the murder was published in Outlaws & Lawmen of Western Canada, Volume Two.

Here is a list of newspaper accounts at the time:

The murder of James Adams would negatively affect race relations in Calgary for some time. Grant MacEwan writes that when in Calgary, John Ware became aware he was the object of a poorly-disguised resentment such as he hadn't sensed since leaving the far south.

This month, it is fitting to reflect on the successes and failures of Canadian society to create a more inclusive country. Canadian history brings out the good and the bad stories of our collective experience, but it also holds for all of us lessons that should not be ignored.

This article excludes mention of William Bond, Henry and Dave Mills because they do not yet appear in our short profiles, but these may feature in future articles.