November 06, 2010

The origin of "Indian summer"

Indian Summer

By Josh FitzpatrickOne explanation of the term "Indian Summer" might be that the early native Indians chose that time of year as their hunting season. This seems reasonable seeing the fall months are still considered the main hunting season for several animals.

Also, the mild and hazy weather encourages the animals out, and the haziness of the air gives the hunter the advantage to sneak up on its prey without being detected. Taking this idea one step further, Indians at that time were known to have set fires to prairie grass, underbrush and woods to accentuate the hazy, smoky conditions. But Albert Matthews pointed out that the Indians also did this at other times of the year.

Other possibilities include; the Indians made use of the dry, hazy weather to attack the whites before the hard winter set in; that this was the season of the Indian harvest; or, that the predominant southwest winds that accompanied the Indian Summer period were regarded by the Indians as a favor or "blessing" from a "god" in the desert Southwest.

Another idea, of a more prejudicial origin, was that possibly the earliest English immigrants equated Indian Summer to "fools" Summer, given the reliability of the resulting weather.

Finally, another hypothesis, not at all in the American Indian "camp" of theories, was put forward by an author by the name of H. E. Ware, who noted that ships at that time traversing the Indian Ocean loaded up their cargo the most during the "Indian Summer," or fair weather season. Several ships actually had an "I.S." on their hull at the load level thought safe during the Indian Summer.
Comment:  Another theory may explain the origin of "Indian summer," or at least its staying power. Namely, the idea of a fall season that reminds us of the golden glow of summer. You know, when temperatures were warm, families gathered, and children frolicked. When the buffalo roamed, the deer and antelope played, and Indians flourished before Euro-Americans began killing them. In short, a romantic and nostalgic time of year when we think fondly of the past symbolized by noble but dead Indians.

For more on the subject, see Chicago Tribune Reprints "Injun Summer" Nostalgia Piece.


Unknown said...

I was told that "Indian Summer" was a term from England and refers to the Indian being summer in India when it's winter in England.

So, when the English had an unusually warm fall they called it an Indian Summer.

Keeping in mind the huge presence England had in India it makes sense.

Don't know if it's true but, that's what I was told. So, Indian Summer has never bothered me nearly as much as other sayings (e.g. "off the reservation," "red-handed," etc).

dmarks said...

Interesting points.

There's also "Engine Summer" by John Crowley. A take-off on "Indian Summer", but not on the pejorative word "Injun" which it happens to sound more like.