© 2024
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Coronavirus Victims: Wesley Fire Cloud Jr. Of Crow Creek Sioux Tribe


Big Bend, S.D., is a quiet place in the grasslands along the Missouri River. It's part of the Crow Creek Sioux reservation. Only about 80 people live there.

JANICE ADRIAN: The majority of us that live here are all family.


Janice Adrian says when the pandemic struck, it seemed like a good thing the community was so tight-knit.

ADRIAN: We were really proud of ourselves because none of us are big travelers. None of us are party people. We all decided we're all quarantining in our houses, and we'll be safe.

PFEIFFER: Now, six months later, she's mourning the lives of four family members killed by COVID-19. One of them was her son, Wesley Fire Cloud Jr.

CORNISH: Early in the pandemic, Wesley took a job as a COVID-19 security monitor for the community. Janice says her son was always looking for ways to keep his community safe.

ADRIAN: You know, he'd come in and say, Mom, what do we have? He said, all these little kids out here didn't eat. He'd come in, find them something to take it out and feed them or bring them all in.

CORNISH: The security team kept track of anyone who got sick and made sure they quarantined.

ADRIAN: And then there was a resolution from the tribe that if they seen a car coming that didn't belong here, they were to go find out what they were doing in the community. And if they didn't belong here - that they were to self-quarantine or leave.

PFEIFFER: On June 14 a car from California drove into town, so Wesley and a few other officers, including Janice's sister Ethel and her cousin Randy, walked over to tell the visitors the rules.

CORNISH: Janice says they refused to quarantine and wouldn't leave, and though she can't be sure they brought the virus with them, she said her son, her sister, her cousin and her brother-in-law all fell ill in the next few weeks.

PFEIFFER: Her brother-in-law Kenneth Jewett died June 27. He was 56.

CORNISH: That same day, her son Wesley was airlifted to a hospital in Sioux Falls.

ADRIAN: I waited for them to come and get him. I followed the ambulance to the airplane. I watched them put him on there, and that was the last time I seen him.

CORNISH: Wesley Fire Cloud Jr. died July 2. He was 38 years old.

PFEIFFER: Four days later, it was Janice's cousin. Randy His Law was 34.

CORNISH: And her sister Ethel Left Hand Bull died on August 22. She was 55.

PFEIFFER: When the virus ripped through the tiny community of Big Bend, it tore away a whole constellation of family members.

ADRIAN: All we have is each other. If somebody runs out of something, we try our best to help each other in a good way. That's all we have, and that's how we survived. This virus is real, and it took a lot from us.

CORNISH: Janice Adrian of the Crow Creek Sioux reservation in South Dakota. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.