Sioux Falls, SD: Lyle Eagle Tail Makes Supreme Sacrifice to Save Siblings -by Dana Lone Hill
I write often about the state of South Dakota. It is where I was born and raised and I love my homeland. However, when I write about South Dakota, I usually write of the hate crime and racism that runs rampant against South Dakota’s first citizens by those who settled here. These are attitudes and crimes that most of South Dakota doesn’t see, or doesn’t want to see, and too many times we Native Americans see so much from a young age on through life that it no longer shocks us. What shocks us is when it isn’t there and we expect it. However, this is the reality of every single Native American living in this state with no love for its original inhabitants. This draws harsh lines of our everyday life between the Natives and Non Natives, often time it turns to animosity and tension.
However, once in a great while, something will happen here to blur those lines and will show us what it means to be a human, and last Thursday, on March 14, 2013 at about 6pm a little boy from out of town, with his family enjoying the nice weather, fell into the Big Sioux River here in Sioux Falls, SD. He fell into the river at Falls Park, which is beautiful but has dangerous currents, churning water, and always has foam from the chemicals dumped in the city sewage runoff. On that day, the foam was up to 10 feet high in some places. Six year old Garrett Wallace fell into the icy river and his 16 year old sister Madison Wallace jumped in after him when Lyle Eagle Tail was passing by. Any other time, in life they may have passed by each other without a second glance. However, when Lyle saw Madison go under the current, without hesitation, and not knowing either Garrett or Madison, 28 year old Lyle Eagle Tail jumped in the ice cold waters of the Big Sioux River.
When you consider this action of heroism: he was 28 years old at the time, he knew neither Madison nor Garrett, and Lyle was an American Indian, or Native American. He was a Lakota through and through, with his mother being enrolled in the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and his father being enrolled with the Thunder Hawk Tiyospaye (family) out of Oglala, South Dakota with the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Lyle had no idea that these two people from Vermillion, South Dakota would cross his path and he also had no idea that day would be his last to walk on our Grandmother Earth. What Lyle did know is how he was raised by his grandmothers. I am somewhat familiar with his mother’s side of the family. I do know after talking to his aunt that Lyle was raised with in Rapid City, in his early years, and then in between Minneapolis, MN and Sioux Falls, SD for the rest of his short life. He was raised by his Grandmother Louise to respect his elders and to always put children first.
This is a Lakota tradition that dates back to the birth of the stars. It is very encouraging for the future of our people to see a young man, a young warrior raised all his life in urban settings with our traditional Lakota values. I know that this is why he did not hesitate, like Madison Wallace, to jump into the icy waters in the middle of March after her 6 year old brother to save him; because, that is how his Grandmothers raised him to be. I spoke briefly with his Aunt Valerie and first cousin Pascha out of Colorado, which in Lakota way is still a sibling while an aunt is another mother. They expressed nothing but love and pride for Lyle. His Tunwin (Aunt) Valerie said “He was a good father, always expressing his love for his daughter and his unborn baby. He grew up around his grandmothers and all his first cousins, always in a city, but he grew up learning his traditional ways. He knew how to treat people and what life meant. He went through a hard time after the death of one Grandmother where he stopped believing in the power of prayer and the Creator, but about a week before this tragedy, he told us he had started praying again. I was just happy to know he had that power of belief again.”His cousin Pascha said she communicated with him often by letter. “He had that Indian sense of humor, he always found the light in situations so he could laugh and at the same time, he was selfless, giving, and good people.”He often would call or write to Pascha and tell her of his dreams, which always consisted of his children; his daughter and his unborn baby.
In one letter he wrote to his cousin “my life revolves, surrounds, and is of EMMA, nothing else, that’s my baby. I will help her to believe that the sky is the limit; I just want to be the father she needs. My goals in life will offer her knowledge. My accomplishments will give her understanding. My actions will show her wisdom. My love for her has no boundaries. My life is hers. My loyalty is for her to grow and develop her true potential, it’s only hers.” Even though they lived in different states, his daughter was his priority.“Our Grandma raised him to be a good person.” Pascha told me “Lyle is a Hero; he sacrificed his own life to save a child. We will forever love and miss him, his handsome face, his laugh, voice and smile, his entire being. Rest in Peace cousin.”She shared one last piece of writing from Lyle “”I LIVE LIFE NOW. I GOT SIX PRINCIPLES I GO FORWARD WITH: LOVE, LIFE, LOYALTY, UNDERSTANDING, and KNOWLEDGE & WISDOM. TRUST ME, I LEARNED FROM THE HARSHEST TEACHER, (EXPERIENCE). I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME AGAIN.”
With those words from Lyle and the way his grandmother raised him, we know as Lakota he deserves the highest honor. Along with a 16 year old girl, whom he didn’t know, they dived into the icy March waters of a river in South Dakota to save the life of her brother, a six year old boy. They gave their lives so that the life of a young boy can be lived to his fullest potential. And that is where humanity comes in and blurs the racial boundaries in South Dakota. This is how Lakota warriors are raised, especially by their grandmothers. Please consider donating to the trust funds set up for their families, joining in the effort to rename the park on the facebook page here, or remember next time you walk by a complete stranger, that no matter who they are or what their background is, they are potentially your next hero as you may be theirs. I know at this time Lyle Eagle Tail and Madison Wallace are heroes. And that is how they died and will be remembered. Lyle Francis Eagle Tail, you are the warrior that many young Lakota men strive and dream to become someday. Thank you for your actions, have a good journey back to the old ones.
*Wells Fargo has an account for donations under the name Lyle Eagletail Benefit Memorial Fund.
*A Memorial Fund has been set up at Wells Fargo under the name Madison Wallace Family Fund.