Native and non-Native alike are mourning Lyle Eagle Tail, who passed on as a hero while trying to save a 6-year-old boy from the raging waters of the Big Sioux River on the evening of Thursday March 14.
The 28-year-old was passing by when 6-year-old Garrett Martin Wallace fell into the river, police told CNN. First the boy’s sister, 16-year-old Madison Leigh Wallace, jumped in to try and save him and was pulled under.
Garrett survived, but Madison’s body was found on Saturday morning, and Eagle Tail's was pulled from the river at about 2 p.m. on Saturday, CNN affiliate KSFY News reported.
Eagle Tail also jumped into the river to try and grab Garrett. He was pulled under despite others’ attempts to hold onto him, including his friend, 21-year-old Napoleon Ducheneaux.
"We had him … but he just slipped," Ducheneaux told CNN affiliate KSFY. "I heard him say, 'Hold onto me, I'll hold onto you.' That was the last I heard his voice."
Mounds of foam as much as 10 feet deep, characteristic of the falls this time of year, were hampering rescue and recovery efforts, along with river debris and a sheet of ice that had to be broken up, authorities told the Associated Press.
Ducheneaux told AP that Eagle Tail had been holding onto each sibling with one hand, but that his hands then began to slide before he “slipped and disappeared.” The boy got out or was pulled from the river—AP said it was not clear whether he had been in the water itself, or just obscured by foam—and was not injured.
Also with Eagle Tail was Arthur Eaglefeather, who recounted the tragedy to local broadcaster Kelo-TV.
"We were just hanging out, throwing rocks in the river. Then we started hearing people screaming. I came running," Eaglefeather said, according to the station. They tried to grab onto Garrett, he said. When it didn’t work, his friend went in.
The search for Eagle Tail’s body was suspended late Friday because river conditions were too dangerous, AP said.
Condolences were pouring in for Eagle Tail, who people said died a hero and warrior.
“As uncle to Lyle Francis Eagle Tail Thunder Hawk, he should be recognized as a true warrior for giving up his own life for another,” wrote Harold Wayne Eagle Tail of El Cajon, California, on the Facebook page of the Native Citizen News Network. “It shows true humanity and love for another, in this we would like for him to be recognized as a true hero warrior and special prayers for his dad and mom and brothers and sisters.”