TURTLE-DOVE was a widow with two children—Yellow-bird, a girl eleven years of age, and Sage-cock, a baby boy. The girl was big, awkward and stupid; but the boy, though only a baby, gave signs of being a remarkably bright child.
Turtle-dove was always anxious about him, for an old witch who lived in that part of the country stole every little boy that she could find.
One day Turtle-dove went down to the valley to gather seeds and herbs. She carried her baby on her back, but he was heavy, and after a time she grew tired from the weight and constant stooping. So she took the baby and laid him under a sage-brush, telling his sister to watch him.
Presently the old witch came that way, and going up to the bundle, felt it all over, and asked Yellow-bird what it contained. "It is my sister," said she, for she thought the witch would not want to steal a girl.
Then the old witch scolded her, growing more and more loud and angry in her speech and manner until her eyes stood out, glaring at the girl, and her grizzled locks rattled like the naked branches of the trees. Yellow-bird grew cold as ice and could not even scream, she was so frightened.
The old witch, seeing that she was not likely to be attacked, seized the little pappoose and flew away with him on her bat-like wings to the distant mountain, which no man can climb by reason of the rattlesnake forest at its base.
When she reached her den, which was a hollow place black with cinders and hidden from sight by a clump of hemlock trees, she laid the boy on the ground, broke the strips of deer skin that held his fur blanket over him and stretched his legs till he became a man.
"Now," said she, "I shall have a husband."
Although Sage-cock had suddenly grown to a man's size, he had only a baby's heart and knew no better than to marry an ugly old witch.
When Turtle-dove returned and heard Yellow-bird's story she was very angry and would not forgive the girl for not calling her. She spent day after day searching among the rocks and wherever a wild beast or a witch might have a hiding-place. She left no clump of bushes, however small, unexplored, but all to no purpose. At last she went to her brother, the Eagle, and told him her story.
Eagle was keen of sight and a swift hunter. He put on his war feathers and his war paint and set out in search of the boy.
One day he heard a baby crying, but he did not recognize its voice. He told his sister, and she begged him to take her to the place, for she felt sure that she would know the child's voice and he would know hers.
They went towards the witch's mountain. Before they reached it they heard the child cry; but did not know how to get to him because of the rattlesnake forest.
Eagle thought he would try his magic, for he was one of the wizards of the tribe. He took two feathers from his head dress and spread them out into wings, which he fastened upon his shoulders. He then placed Turtle Dove on his back and flew with her over the forest of rattlesnakes.
He hid in some bushes while the mother called, "Sage-cock, Sage-cock."
The child cried and strove to get out of the den. He did struggle through the bushes, but the witch caught him. Then with one blow of her stick she killed a mountain sheep near by, and taking the boy in her arms, jumped into its stomach. She pulled the wool about them and lay very still.
Meanwhile Eagle killed a rabbit and put it on the top of a tall pine tree, then peeled the bark so that it would be hard to climb. They watched for days but with no success.
At last the old woman grew hungry, and Sage-cock cried for food. So she crept out, and seeing the rabbit, tried to get it.
When Eagle saw her he knew that the baby could not be far off. He stretched himself full length on the ground and listened, with his ear to the earth.
First he heard a faint cry which seemed to come from the sheep, then, as he went nearer, he heard the boy's heart thumping and knew just whereto go. He found the baby, caught him up in his arms and ran quickly with him down to the edge of the rattlesnake forest.
Knowing the old witch would follow him, he raised a great snow-storm, that covered all his tracks, so that she should not know in what direction he had gone.
But in his haste he dropped two eagle's feathers, and the witch knew at once who had stolen her husband. She went to her brother, one of the chiefs of the rattlesnakes, and asked him to take her part. He hated her, for she was always getting him into trouble; but she was his sister, and he could not refuse.
Just then, Eagle's war-whoop was heard; and, having no place in which to hide her, he opened his mouth, and let her jump down his throat. She would not be still and bothered him so much that after Eagle had passed he tried to throw her off. But he could not rid himself of her, and at last he wrenched himself so hard that he jumped out of his own skin.
The witch still lives in it and rolls about among the rocks to this day, mocking all who pass, though no one can ever lay hold of her. The Pale-faces call her Echo.
Sage-cock became a little boy again and grew to be a mighty chief, succeeding his uncle, the Eagle, as a warrior and magician.