by Shelley McAneeley
TouchWood Editions (2015)
This is a down home story from Alberta about one of the first black settlers in the area. John Ware is much more than just any settler as he was instrumental to laying the foundations of the ranching industry in western Canada. High Rider creates a fictional conversation about Ware’s journey from slavery to ranch owner. He remains steadfast in his beliefs and goals. Through his gentle and patient approach to life, he reaps great success. Not so much financial success, but rather like a prow on an icebreaker, he opens the hearts of those around him.
It’s funny. When I first come here, people referred to me as Nigger John Ware. I didn’t like it because it made me feel different and less than the white men around me. I knew the only way to change that wasn’t by complainin’—it was by hard work. Now all you need to say is John Ware and folks know who you’re talkin’ about, from the Highwood to Fort McLeod. I don’t feel my colour nowhere except here in Calgary. (204)
Multiple disasters befall John, as do many acts of kindness. His liberal generosity earned him great rewards. He was not a man without skills and his horsemanship skills were highly sought after. He worked at a number of ranches, and found a wife and had children.
Here’s a small excerpt of the kind of man Gallaher imagined John might be. John is driving cattle to his new personal homestead with his new wife.
Mildred was not impressed. “You could strain your eyes blind trying to find something to look at our here.”
John laughed. “Maybe so, but if you were a cow you’d find the grass real fetchin’.” (236)
High Rider is a pleasant read, and one hopes that the real John Ware had a life like the one described, one where John supersedes colour, one with immediate rewards that compensated the pain and isolation he probably endured.
Shelley McAneeley ponders the world of art in its many forms. She is a voracious reader and sometimes creator of poems. You can enjoy some of her poems in Drifting Like A Metaphor, edited by Micheline Maylor and available through Frontenac House (2018). She is a poetry editor at FreeFall Magazine.