Today marks the one-year anniversary of the deaths of Madison Wallace and Lyle Eagle Tail. The Lakota man and the non-Native teen drowned in Sioux Falls as they attempted to save Madison’s younger brother from the Big Sioux River’s churning waters.
Native Americans in the community are holding a memorial dinner tonight to remember Wallace and Eagle Tail and to honor all those who helped in attempting to save and then recover them.
It was an unusually warm late-winter day as Lara Wallace traveled from her Vermillion home to Sioux Falls for school supplies. She dropped off her children at Falls Park, a favorite family spot, for the brief time it would take to run her errand. Her oldest daughter, 16-year old Madison was left in charge of four younger siblings.
Lara recalls that she was in traffic minutes later when an urgent phone call came through. Two of her children were in trouble.
“And, so, I actually was not even there when it happened,” Lara says, sobbing. “And I’m sure a lot of times you think, you know, ‘Oh, I wish I could’ve been there.’ But I wasn’t.”
When Lara finally arrived at Falls Park through rush-hour traffic, she learned that her daughter, Madison, had been swept under the foamy waters of the Big Sioux River after jumping in to save her youngest brother, Garrett.
Lyle Eagle Tail, a stranger to the Wallace family, had seem Madison in the water and jumped in to help her. Other people gathered to assist Lyle in pulling Madison out.
“Madison did grab on to his leg, and held on to him for about five minutes,” explains Lara. “For that time. And they did say that they were just really having a hard time with the current and not having enough strength to hold on to them and then they slipped away.”
Six-year old Garrett was able to make his way from the river to safety.
Lara Wallace now lives with her family in Utah. She says it’s been difficult getting through her days without Madison.
“I’m surprised, but my kids seem to be doing better than I am,” comments Lara. “ You know, so they….I’m the one who’s always crying all the time and…gets sad, but they’re great…and I’m glad for that.”
Lara has also been able to see positives within the tragedy.
“I think that we’ve been just really grateful for…you know, she couldn’t have died a better way,” contemplates Lara. “Because she showed her true personality and she lived her life constantly on behalf of others all the time…and she died doing the same thing. She was just trying to help people. She’s such a…she’s a sweetheart. If anyone knew her, they’d know that she was…just so sweet.”
As for the courage shown by Lyle Eagle Tail, Lara says she’s overwhelmed.
“Our family is really appreciative of him and offering himself to be able to do that,” Lara advises. “Because it was a really scary situation and he didn’t hesitate to come and offer to help. And he held on for a long time and did his best to try to help her. And we….know that that loss…is really hard and…(cries)…we’re really sorry that he didn’t make it.”
Stephanie Bolman is Native American and a board member of the Sioux Falls Diversity Council. She organized tonight’s memorial dinner to remember Madison and Lyle, to honor first responders and for another reason.
“The differences with the races between Natives and non-Natives alike here in South Dakota can be tense sometimes,” observes Stephanie. “But my hope is that they will recognize what Lyle did, you know, represents what’s best in all of us Natives. You know, we’re generous people and this is something that can build bridges. And I’m hoping that this is what the event will do…start building bridges between communities.”
The theme of the memorial dinner is “Warriors See No Color”…in recognition of Lyle Eagle Tail’s selfless act to help another human being. Stephanie Bolman hopes tonight’s event can be the start of an annual gathering where people of all races, ethnicities and backgrounds meet to celebrate themselves and one another – while they recall the courage of two young warriors.
*Wells Fargo has an account for donations under the name Lyle Eagletail Benefit Memorial Fund.
*A Memorial Fund has also been set up at Wells Fargo under the name Madison Wallace Family Fund.
Orchestral Music in this story is by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir - "You Raise Me Up" and by the Lakota Music Project (Sioux Falls Symphony Orchestra - Creekside Singers) "Mourning".