28-year-old Lyle Eagle Tail entered the frothing waters of the Big
Sioux River last year attempting to rescue 6-year-old Garrett Wallace
and his 16-year-old sister Madison from the foam, he was following
the way of the Lakota grandmothers.
Now the Lakota warrior's heroism, which cost him his life, has
been recognized nationally. He is among 21 people awarded the Carnegie
Hero Medal, the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission announced last month.
Man Drowns Trying to Pluck 6-Year-Old Boy From Big Sioux River in
Eagle Tail, whose fiancée had a baby on the way, did
not think of himself when he took on the cause of someone he did
not know. He was merely picnicking near the falls and saw Garrett
fall into the Big Sioux River, disappearing into a thick layer of
foam, the Carnegie Hero Commission recounted. Madison went in after
him, but she slipped under the foam as well.
"From another party in the park, Eagle Tail, 28, restaurant
employee, responded to the scene and let others hold to him as he
lay on the bank and attempted to reach Garrett and Madison," the
Commission said. "He fell from their grasp into the river. Garrett
surfaced, made his way to the bank, and was pulled to safety, but
Madison and Eagle Tail drowned."
The harrowing story was recounted by friends in the days and
weeks after the March 2013 tragedy.
Eagle Tail: A True Warrior Who Died Trying to Save a Child
The Carnegie award was established by steel baron Andrew Carnegie
after two would-be rescuers died in the aftermath of a mining explosion
that killed an additional 179 people in Pennsylvania in 1904.
Award candidates "must be a civilian who voluntarily risks his
or her life to an extraordinary degree while saving or trying to
save the life of another person," the Carnegie
website stipulates. While immediate family members of the person
in question are not often singled out, the organization made an
exception in this case, said Walter Rutkowski, president of the
Carnegie Hero Fund Commission,
Dakota Public Broadcasting.
"The case was called to our attention because of the actions
of Mr. Eagle Tail going into the river after both Madison and her
brother Garrett," Rutkowski said. "And the further we looked into
the case we found that Madison was the first into the river to search
for her brother, so we extended consideration to her as well."
The awards have been bestowed upon 9,718 people since their
inception in 1904, according to the commission, chosen from more
than 86,000 nominees by a 21-member panel. About 20 percent are
awarded posthumously, the commission said. The award comes with
The honor is of course bittersweet, as a response from Eagle
Tail's father on a Facebook page attested.
"Here it is my son.....You're a hero... Our Lakota warrior!
'Akicita'!" wrote his father in all capital letters under a
photo of the award. "I am so proud of you son, but still my heart
for all to see.......Love you son!"