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Touch the Clouds

Minneconjou Lakota



Probably the most accurate translation of his Lakota name, Mahpiya Icahtagya, would be Touch the Clouds (as opposed to Touch the Cloud). According to Buechel & Manhart, Lakota Dictionary (2002), the word mahpiya means "the clouds" (p. 193). The word is already plural. If you were speaking of a single isolated cloud, you would distinguish that by saying mahpiya ayaskapa. The Lakota word icahtagya means "touching, as a cup-board does a wall, or as a man leaning against the wall" (p. 101). — Ephriam Dickson

The name is also sometimes given as Mahpiya Iyapato. Buechel & Manhart 'Lakota Dictionary' p. 251 defines the verb iyapato as "To butt against, to be struck by; to press on, be cramped by e.g., a short moccasin". So this version has the sense of Pressed Up Against the Clouds. — Kingsley Bray

Touch the Clouds was the son of the prominent Minneconjou headman Lone Horn (who died shortly before the Sioux War of 1876-77). Touch the Cloud's uncle, Lame Deer, was one of the last Minneconjou to hold out.

Touch the Clouds was not at the Little Big Horn. Rather, he and his band were living at the Cheyenne River Agency on the Missouri River in June 1876, where documents show that he was counseling the Army: "Have compassion on us. Don't punish us all because some of us fought when we had to." (Touch the Clouds, in council at Cheyenne River Agency, July 29, 1876).

When the Army began preparing to surround the friendlies to confisgate their horses and arms in the fall of 1876, many of the Minneconjou fled the agency, including Touch the Clouds. They joined the hostiles about the first week of October 1876. The arrival of influential Minneconjou headmen like Touch the Clouds, Roman Nose, Bull Eagle and Spotted Elk introduced a more moderate element into the leadership within the northern village.

After the hostile camp scattered, Touch the Clouds' band settled on the Little Missouri River where Spotted Tail found them in February/March 1877 and persuaded them to come in. They accompanied the Brule chief to the Spotted Tail Agency where they surrendered their horses and guns in mid-April 1877. Touch the Clouds remained at this agency for the remainder of the year, serving as a sergeant in the Indian Scouts and accompanied Crazy Horse to Camp Robinson at the time of his death. When the Red Cloud and Spotted Tail Agencies were moved to the Missouri that fall, Touch the Clouds camp joined the Oglala at Red Cloud. He returned to his own agency at the Cheyenne River Agency in January/February 1878. Agent Irwin at Red Cloud wrote (Jan. 21, 1878): "I have the honor to state that the following named Indians (Minneconjous) have asked to be transferred to your Agency. Touch the Cloud, chief has been very obedient and orderly during his stay with me and with his band remained behind when all the others left here. Owing to his conduct I consider him as deserving of attention and respectfully request that the transfer meets with your approval." The list included Touch the Clouds and son, with 1 woman and 2 girls.

Touch the Clouds lived the remainder of his life as a prominent leader of his band at Cheyenne River.

He was photographed several times in 1877, including several photographs by Mathew Brady and one image attributed to Ulke which he later used as the basis for his painting of Touch the Clouds. — Ephriam Dickson

Touch The Clouds was my grandmother's brother. He was Crazy Horse's first cousin. Lone Horn, a/k/a One Horn, was Rattling Blanket's brother. I have the full family tree. Chief Black Buffalo's children were Afraid Of Her, Hump, One Horn, Lone Horn, Pretty Woman, and Rattling Blanket. — Carl C. Dupree

Photo taken by C. M. Bell during the 1877 delegation to Washington when Touch the Clouds
would've gone along as a representative of the 'Northern' Lakota.

Two delegation photos, both taken in 1877 by Matthew Brady.

The photographs clearly show that Touch the Clouds was not seven feet tall.

There are, as noted above, a number of photographs of him from 1877. He was photographed by Charles Bell, Matthew Brady and one of the Ulke brothers in Washington D.C. (The Ulke portrait was used then to produce a painting of him). Touch the Clouds was also photographed at the Spotted Tail Agency by James H. Hamilton in the fall of 1877 (holding a rifle); also Private Charles Howard apparently photographed him as well though I have not been able to find a copy of that image yet. He was also photographed by Alexander Gardner in 1877 in the large delegation view at the Corcoran Gallery.

As to the shirt, yes, it is the same one worn by American Horse, William Garnett (Billy Hunter), Little Wound, and others in both the 1877 and 1880 delegation photographs. The original shirt is now preserved at the Buffalo Bill Cody Museum. It was apparently packed in a trunk returning from Washington D.C. in 1880 and lost at that time; the trunk and its contents was found years later and auctioned off, with the shirt eventually arriving in Cody. — Ephriam Dickson

In the case of Touch the Clouds, we have several documents in the Cheyenne River Agency files at the National Archives that mention Touch the Clouds at the Agency, including one in which he spoke at a council in July 1876. In addition, a ledger book in the records of the adjacent Army garrison records the date when Touch the Clouds and other Minneconjou/Sans Arc fled the agency that fall. We also have several Lakota accounts of the Minneconjou joining the northern bands that fall. []

The mentions in documents of Touch the Clouds at the agency through the spring and summer of 1876 suggests that he was not at the Little Big Horn. That is my interpretation based upon the available evidence.

By weaving together the data/facts and interpretations/perspectives, we create a hypothesis or idea of what we think was happening. In the case of Touch the Clouds, I think that he was a moderate headman who, like his father before him, had successfully walked the fine line between the agency bands and the northern bands who remained away from the agencies. During this period, there was considerable political tension and polarization as each of the bands and their leadership struggled to come to grips with the overwhelming flood of whites engulfing their territory and way of life and did so in different ways. I see Touch the Clouds in some ways as a moderating force between these two tensions, though leaning more towards the agency band side by the end of the Great Sioux War of 1876-77. Now that is my hypothesis, based on the available data and my interpretations of that data.

I also have notes on a Hunkpapa named Mahpiya Iyabeto, variously translated as Push Against the Cloud, Reaching Cloud or High in the Clouds. He was a headman within Sitting Bull's band, surrendered with Sitting Bull and went to Fort Randall with the chief in 1881 as a prisoner of war. After returning to Standing Rock Agency, he was recognized by the agent as a headman and had his own band. — Ephriam Dickson

This is a much debated photograph of Touch-theClouds, when he was with his wife at the Transmississippi & International Exposition at Omaha in 1898. The picture was done by F.A. Rinehart. It is not clear, if this was the Minneconjou headman:

"Touch Cloud and Woman (Sioux)"
TMI number 00889
Photograph by F. A. Rinehart, 1898
© Omaha Public Library, 1998

Dietmar Schulte-Möhring

Misty, Carl, and Scott Dupree of Cheyenne River are descendants of Touch The Cloud (no 's'). — Brock


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