In many ways “Wabi” was an unusual Indian. First of all, his name “Wabi” was evidently a nickname, meaning “white”. The natives who knew him well invariably say, “He looked just like an old Swede.” We assumed at first that he was an albino, until one and all assured us that he had blue eyes. The “Wabi” was not derogatory, for the natives had another word, “Moonias” or “Mooniow,” for white men, which they also applied to another native who was deficient in native lore or in native skills. Wabi was tall, light skinned, as well as blonde-haired.
He is also remembered as “Chief Wabi”, yet he was head of no band. He could not have acquired the title, as so many did, when they “took treaty” at which time the commissioners appointed one native to deal for the whole band. Local Indians technically had no “chiefs”. All of those who remembered him agreed that he did not live on the reserve and did not take treaty. “Chief” must have been a title earned by respect alone.
Neither was he able to speak, or apparently understand, English. His language was Cree whereas the two reservations set up at Moberly Lake in 1914 were Saulteau and Beaver at the east and west ends of the lake respectively. Being a Cree, it is likely that he or his family had come either from the Onion Lake area in Saskatchewan or from the descendants of the voyageurs who had settled at Lac St. Anne in Alberta. Grouord and Lesser Slave Lake were stopping places on the more or less friendly invasion which followed the Peace of Unchaga, and became a mass movement after the Riel Rebellion. Since most of the “immigrants” were Metis, they had French (or Scotch) surnames. Wabi’s surname was said to be Cahihasen (one of several spellings), and the marker on Mrs. Wabi’s grave in the Moberly Catholic cemetery is “Callazon”. The old man himself is said to have died at Arras (date unknown) and to have been buried on Bear Mountain below the TV and radio towers just southwest of Dawson Creek.
When the older Indians of Moberly Lake knew him he lived “alone” and trapped up “Wabi’s Creek” in the valley now traversed by the railway, near the point known as “Bond’s Siding.” In fact, in the late 1950’s the remains of his cabin were still standing on Jim Bond’s land.
Wabi’s living alone in itself was unusual. However, he did not lack company for two of the venerable Metis whom we interviewed said, “I lived with him,” or “he almost brought me up.” Both being young boys at the time establishes the time at sixty to seventy years ago [from 1970] when Wabi already was “that white-headed old man”. Alexeis Gauthier particularly remembers the old chief’s storytelling, and from the chuckle which accompanied the memory, it must have been amusing. The late Mrs. Dolly Bond told the writer that Wabi was remembered twenty years ago as a “dreamer, a sort of medicine man, certainly a prophet”.
However much confusion there may be about his personal history, there is no doubt about some of his “visions,” the memory of which was recalled when the seismic crews began oil and gas exploration in the Pine Valley. Wabi had foretold it all – the men going all over the country in strange “carts,” digging holes in the earth and “making thunder” in them – a pretty accurate description of the underground explosions of dynamite by which the seismic crews “read” the underground formations.
Another prediction came true, – the building of the W.A.C. Bennettt Dam. It is true that the potential for hydro-electric energy had been talked about since Mackenzie’s day, and Indians who regularly visited Fort St. John and Hudson’s Hope fur-trade posts could have heard enough to tell Wabi in their native tongue. An old-time character called “Carbon River Jones” had talked constantly of a dam after the first gold rush in the 1860’s and 1870’s spread later into the upper Peace. His idea was that fabulous quantities of gold should be caught in the troughs between the up-stream slanted rock ledges, which caused the terrible Canyon rapids. Granting that Wabi may have heard of such talk, he could not likely have envisaged the enormity and nature of the great earth-filled dam that rose there, yet he described it remarkably well. The interviewer suggested that the old man might have heard of such things. “No” he said emphatically. “We never heard anything about those things those days. We did not know. I used to think it was all foolishness. Now I have lived to see it all. How did he know?” After a pause he reiterated, “How did he know? I don’t know. – But he told us all – a long time ago – a long time ago!”
From another old-timer the writer heard of the prediction of “tall towers” (the Commotion Creek exploratory well-rig – and others?) There would be, he said, tall giants marching through the valley carrying lightning”, (the power lines?). These are a recent development, long after Wabi’s death.
Very little, perhaps, to substantiate the stories that Wabi Creek and Wabi Hill at Chetwynd commemorate the prophecies of a remarkable local native person whose powers of precognition are too frequently recalled to be dismissed.
Moberly Lake has a story of clairvoyance, or precognition. Mrs. Martha (nee Desjarlais) Garbitt found herself there as a result of a dream. Many Indians fled from the prairies after the Riel Rebellion. For years some of them drifted west and north. Since most of them were fish-eaters, they drifted from lake to lake. Mrs. Garbitt’s father seems to have been for a time at Sturgeon Lake east of Grande Prairie, but this was not the lake her father had seen in a dream as his “promised land.” A long lake, running east and west was what he was seeking. At the farther end he had seen two mountains resembling a woman’s breasts. In Moberly he saw what he sought, and there his people settled, and eventually obtained a reserve. The two mountains still retain their Anglicized Indian name – The Squaw-tit Mountains.