It was an unusually warm late-winter afternoon in 2013 when 16-year old Madison Wallace jumped into the frigid Big Sioux River to save her 6-year old brother. Shortly afterward, a passing stranger named Lyle Eagle Tail saw Madison struggling in the water and plunged in to save her.
Within minutes, both Madison and Lyle were swept away in the foamy current, while the teen’s brother managed to escape danger.
Walter Rutkowski is president of the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission. Rutkowsk says the private operating fund commission was founded in 1904 by Andrew Carnegie to recognize civilian heroism throughout the United States and Canada.
“We do that by giving an award called the Carnegie Medal,” Rutkowski explains. “ Which is a three-inch medallion. And it’s given to people who risk or lose their lives saving or attempting to save the lives of others.”
The award isn’t given to someone who saves a life, says Rutkowski, but to an individual who risks their own life in an attempt to save another.
”The case was called to our attention because of the actions of Mister Eagle Tail going into the river after both Madison and her brother Garrett,” Rutkowski recalls. “ 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 Carnegie Hero Fund Commission doesn’t usually consider those who act to save immediate family members, but can make an exception in a case where the individual dies during their rescue attempt.
Up to 1000 applications are received by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission each year. Not every application results in an award.