Myths & Legends



Ute: Origin of the Echo

Ute people are Native Americans of the Ute tribe and culture. They are now living primarily in Utah and Colorado. The Ute are in the Great Basin classification of Indigenous People.

They have three Ute tribal reservations: Uintah-Ouray in northeastern Utah (3,500 members); Southern Ute in Colorado (1,500 members); and Ute Mountain which primarily lies in Colorado, but extends to Utah and New Mexico (2,000 members). The majority of Ute are believed to live on one of these reservations. The State of Utah is named after these people.

This fable from the Ute is cited in First Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1879-1880 by J. W. Powell, a fable as teacher of the why of the world. The mocking cries of witches domiciliated in snake skins are the real source of echoes.
— Orly

I´-o-wi (the turtle dove) was gathering seeds in the valley, and her little babe slept. Wearied with carrying it on her back, she laid it under the tĭ-hó-pĭ (sage bush) in care of its sister, O-hó-tcu (the summer yellow bird). Engaged in her labors, the mother wandered away to a distance, when a tsó-a-vwĭts (a witch) came and said to the little girl, “Is that your brother?” and O-hó-tcu answered, “This is my sister,” for she had heard that witches preferred to steal boys, and did not care for girls. Then the tsó-a-vwĭts was angry and chided her, saying that it was very naughty for girls to lie; and she put on a strange and horrid appearance, so that O-hó-tcu was stupefied with fright; then the tsó-a-vwĭts ran away with the boy, carrying him to her home on a distant mountain. Then she laid him down on the ground, and, taking hold of his right foot, stretched the baby’s leg until it was as long as that of a man, and she did the same to the other leg; then his body was elongated; she stretched his arms, and, behold, the baby was as large as a man. And the tsó-a-vwĭts married him and had a husband, which she had long desired; but, though he had the body of a man, he had the heart of a babe, and knew no better than to marry a witch.

Now, when I´-o-wi returned and found not her babe under the tĭ-hó-pĭ, but learned from O-hó-tcu that it had been stolen by a tsó-a-vwĭts, she was very angry, and punished her daughter very severely. Then she went in search of the babe for a long time, mourning as she went, and crying and still crying, refusing to be comforted, though all her friends joined her in the search, and promised to revenge her wrongs.

Chief among her friends was her brother, Kwi´-na (the eagle), who traveled far and wide over all the land, until one day he heard a strange noise, and coming near he saw the tsó-a-vwĭts and U´-ja (the sage cock), her husband, but he did not know that this large man was indeed the little boy who had been stolen. Yet he returned and related to I´-o-wi what he had seen, who said: “If that is indeed my boy, he will know my voice.” So the mother came near to where the tsó-a-vwĭts and U´-ja were living, and climbed into a cedar tree, and mourned and cried continually. Kwi´-na placed himself nearby on another tree to observe what effect the voice of the mother would have on U´-ja, the tsó-a-vwĭts’ husband. When he heard the cry of his mother, U´-ja knew the voice, and said to the tsó-a-vwĭts, “I hear my mother, I hear my mother, I hear my mother,” but she laughed at him, and persuaded him to hide.

Now, the tsó-a-vwĭts had taught U´-ja to hunt, and a short time before he had killed a mountain sheep, which was lying in camp. The witch emptied the contents of the stomach, and with her husband took refuge within; for she said to herself, “Surely, I´-o-wi will never look in the paunch of a mountain sheep for my husband.” In this retreat they were safe for a long time, so that they who were searching were sorely puzzled at the strange disappearance. At last Kwi´-na said, “They are hid somewhere in the ground, maybe, or under the rocks; after a long time they will be very hungry and will search for food; I will put some in a tree so as to tempt them.” So he killed a rabbit and put it on the top of a tall pine, from which he trimmed the branches and peeled the bark, so that it would be very difficult to climb; and he said, “When these hungry people come out they will try to climb that tree for food, and it will take much time, and while the tsó-a-vwĭts is thus engaged we will carry U´-ja away.” So they watched some days, until the tsó-a-vwĭts was very hungry, and her baby-hearted husband cried for food; and she came out from their hiding place and sought for something to eat. The odor of the meat placed on the tree came to her nostrils, and she saw where it was and tried to climb up, but fell back many times; and while so doing Kwi´-na, who had been sitting on a rock near by and had seen from where she came, ran to the paunch which had been their house, and taking the man carried him away and laid him down under the very sametĭ-hó-pĭ from which he had been stolen; and behold! he was the same beautiful little babe that I´-o-wi had lost.

And Kwi´-na went off into the sky and brought back a storm, and caused the wind to blow, and the rain to beat upon the ground, so that his tracks were covered, and the tsó-a-vwĭts could not follow him; but she saw lying upon the ground near by some eagle feathers, and knew well who it was that had deprived her of her husband, and she said to herself, “Well, I know Kwi´-na is the brother of I´-o-wi; he is a great warrior and a terrible man; I will go to To-go´-a (the rattlesnake), my grandfather, who will protect me and kill my enemies.”

To-go´-a was enjoying his midday sleep on a rock, and as the tsó-a-vwĭts came near her grandfather awoke and called out to her, “Go back, go back; you are not wanted here; go back!” But she came on begging his protection; and while they were still parleying they heard Kwi´-na coming, and To-go´-a said, “Hide, hide!” But she knew not where to hide, and he opened his mouth and the tsó-a-vwĭts crawled into his stomach. This made To-go´-a very sick and he entreated her to crawl out, but she refused, for she was in great fear. Then he tried to throw her up, but could not, and he was sick nigh unto death. At last, in his terrible retchings, he crawled out of his own skin, and left the tsó-a-vwĭts in it, and she, imprisoned there, rolled about and hid in the rocks. When Kwi´-na came near he shouted, “Where are you, old tsó-a-vwĭts? where are you, old tsó-a-vwĭts?” She repeated his words in mockery.

Ever since that day witches have lived in snake skins, and hide among the rocks, and take great delight in repeating the words of passers by.

The white man, who has lost the history of these ancient people, calls these mocking cries of witches domiciliated in snake skins “echoes,” but the Indians know the voices of the old hags.

This is the origin of the echo.



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