Native Sun News: Memories of Lyle Eagle Tail, a young hero

The following story was written and reported by Christina Rose, Native Sun News Staff writer. All content © Native Sun News.

Caroline Quick Bear, aunt of Lyle Eagle Tail.

Memories of Lyle Eagle Tail
Lost his life saving a child
By Christina Rose
Native Sun News Staff writer

RAPID CITY — Shawna Rabbit, 19, was Lyle Eagle Tail’s girlfriend and was with him and other friends on the day Lyle, 28, heroically lost his life. Though they had only been dating since December, their bond was already sealed and she is carrying Lyle’s baby. She loved his sense of humor and he loved that she got his sense of humor.

­­On the morning of Thursday, March 14, Lyle told Shawna that it was a nice day and he wanted to go for a walk. He had never been to Falls Park before, so Shawna called some of her friends to join them.

One of them was Napoleon Ducheneaux, 21, who Lyle had met in Sioux Falls only three weeks before. Napoleon said, “I had just got to know him, but when we first hung out, we had a blast of a night and ever since then, he’d come over and chill with me or I would go and chill with him. We had a lot of funny times when we would all get together. We were close.”

Shawna was happy that Lyle liked her friends. Sitting at his wake amidst the empty folding chairs that would fill up as the day wore on, she said, “Napoleon's mother told me that the way he talked about me, she thought he had known me for years. He told me he felt like he had known me forever.” On March 14, Shawna and Lyle went to Sioux Falls Park where they met up with Napoleon and other friends, and they spent the day outside playing football and getting ready for a big meal. “It was such a beautiful day,” Shawna said wistfully.

Napoleon and Lyle had been throwing stones off of the bridge over the foamy river, and Napoleon left one side to go find more stones. Shawna was sitting on bench on the other side. In front of her, she saw the small boy standing near the edge. She turned her head, but Lyle saw 6-year-old Garrett Martin Wallace fall and he jumped in after him. It took a minute for everything to register in Napoleon's mind, “I saw a boot float by, then a cell phone.”

Napoleon dashed to the other side of the bridge, where the boy’s sister, 16-year-old Madison Leigh Wallace had also already jumped in the water. Lyle grabbed them both and they held onto each other before they all were separated. Suddenly the little boy popped up from the water, which no one could understand because the wall he appeared on was so high.

Napoleon reached into the water and grabbed Lyle’s arm. “Don’t let me go,” Lyle said, yet the icy water and foam made holding on impossible, and he slipped from Napoleon's grasp and disappeared.

Napoleon remembered the scene with a distant look in his eyes, and a heavy weight upon his shoulders. “He had that little boy in his arms, you could hear him talking to the sister. You could hear him but you couldn’t see where he was. The foam was really high.”

Shawna stayed at the river until 2:30 in the morning and then went to Napoleon's home, where they stayed up all night. Alexia Eves, a friend of the Shawna and Napoleon, said the last thing Lyle did was cheer her up. She and Napoleon had a minor disagreement, and she was pouting. Lyle took her aside and made her smile. He said, “Ya be awright.”

At the wake at Mother Butler Center in Rapid City, the three teens looked sadly at nothing in particular, each lost in their own memories of the day, each still hearing Lyle’s voice in their head. One by one, each repeated with a small smile, “Ya be awright.”

It is a fitting final story for a hero whose strength was compassion for of others. At the wake at Mother Butler Center on Friday night, Lyle’s cousins all remembered him as the one who made them laugh, who helped them down from a tree when they were small, and who loved to play with his brothers and sisters. Playing ball with him was one of his cousin's first memories.

Lyle was the oldest but shorter than his brothers. Cousin Cammie Eagle Tail said, “At 5’5”, he was small, but he was big to us. He was always very protective of his female cousins, even though we might have been bigger than him.”

Another cousin, Delwin Fiddler, said, “He gave himself in our way. He is a warrior.” Fiddler is part of the drum He Sapa Ho that was invited by the Eagle Tail family to sing at the wake.

Lyle’s uncle Harold Wayne Eagle Tail took the bus in from El Cajon, CA, for the funeral and the wake. “When I first heard the news it was unbelievable,” Harold said. “He was always a good child, always had respect. His mother was Episcopalian but we also had Lakota beliefs, so he grew up very spiritual. He took part in ceremonies.” Wayne said that the family has a lot of honor and respect for Lyle, and that he was always playing and smiling. “He was very positive and had the gift of laughter,” Wayne said. “I was honored for him to be my nephew. God placed him in our lives. He would give you the shirt off his back and his whole heart. He never saw color, he always acted out of love. He showed humanity and love. I am so proud of him and we will see each other again.”

It was clear from the outpouring of love that Lyle’s story touched many hearts. Retired Lieutenant Colonel Dale Mikolash from Camp Rapid collected all of the newspaper stories he could find and brought them to the Mother Butler Center for the family. Wearing his military cap and still standing straight and tall in military fashion, the elderly gentleman said, “I was so impressed with what that young man had done. I was so inspired and looking at the pictures of him,” shaking his head sadly, said, “What a fine looking young man.”

Mikolash wrote a note that Lyle’s aunt Caroline Quick Bear read aloud at the wake. “Without regard for his safety, he jumped into the frigid waters of the Big Sioux River, to help a 16-year-old girl who had gone in after her brother. For this act of heroism, he lost his life. In the military, this would have been called “above and beyond the call of duty.”

The note ended saying, “If I was ever in a “water emergency” I would hope there was someone like Lyle F. Eagle Tail somewhere close by. Take care of this man, God. He deserves to be in your presence.”

Later, Caroline accepted a letter sent by Senator Tim Johnson which read, “There is no more tribute of sacrifice and heroism and bravery than laying down one's life for another and it is my sincere hope that the family and friends of Lyle hold dearly to that lasting legacy.”

Holding the letter, Quick Bear said, “Everyone has really been there for us. The people in Sioux Falls did so much, we didn’t have to worry about anything. Lyle is our new hero. He touched so many people’s hearts and so many people felt this loss in their hearts. It is so touching. We really appreciate everything everyone has done, it’s too numerous to count.”

(Contact Christina Rose at

Copyright permission by Native Sun News

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