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5 Possible Origins of ‘Indian Summer’ (Hint: Not All Are Native)

Since we are entering the cooler days of autumn and will soon be longing for the warm days of summer, one thing often pervades the minds of those waiting for one last victorious heat wave—an Indian summer. An unseasonably warm period after summer is supposed to be over is dubbed an Indian summer.

But, where did the term “Indian summer” originate? After asking several tribal members across the country, the common response was… “heck if we know!”

So, after some research, here are 5 possible origins of the term “Indian summer,” but they are not all necessarily Native in origin.

It Came from a French Guy… Kind of

In 1902, historical researcher Albert Matthews wrote in his 58-page book, The Term Indian Summer, that Major Ebenezer Denny referred to Indian summer in his journal dated 1794. Matthews later uncovered the term was also earlier used by a Frenchman, St. John de Crevecoeur in 1778. However, though the use of the term is its earliest discovery, the context arguably implied others knew of the term, so its exact origin is not certain.

People of all ages came out to show their support for getting Columbus Day changed to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. (Indigenous Peoples’ Day Committee)

Indians Lied, Just Like a Deceitful Indian Summer

Matthews also didn’t pull a punch when saying that perhaps the term arises from a comparison to Indians as deceitful. In his short book, Matthews writes:

More recently another suggestion has been offered. The Indians were deceitful, and the uncertainty as to the Indian character became a by-word, and hence, by a poetical transition, the short seasons of pleasant weather in November may have been known as “Indian summers” because the pleasant weather could not be relied upon and was sure to be followed by some sudden and severe cold northerly winds and snow. This suggestion is interesting, but the present writer does not know of any evidence by which it can be supported.

It was Settler Hunting Time!

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The Old Farmer’s Almanac has been providing weather forecasts, planting charts and farmer-friendly advice since 1792. Undoubtedly, a publication running that long might have an opinion about Indians and Indian summer. Though they admit there are many theories, their take is on their website:

The most probable origin of the term, in our view, goes back to the very early settlers in New England. Each year they would welcome the arrival of cold wintry weather in late October when they could leave their stockades unarmed. But then came a time when it would suddenly turn warm again, and the Native Americans would decide to have one more go at the settlers. “Indian summer,” the settlers called it.

October is a good time for pumpkins, but sometimes the weather just feels too warm.

Hey Marge, the Indians Are Starting Fires Again

When cold winter days became unseasonably warm, a haze would often cover the lands. Settlers often mistook them for Indians setting fires.

Arnold Printup, tribal historian for the St. Regis Mohawk tribe said, Indians often did start fires in the fields for a number of reasons like enriching the soil. But in terms of settlers mistaking the haziness of a warm winter day for fires set by Indians has been argued by historians to be an error.

It’s Harvest Time

Though Native people harvested their crops when was most appropriate for that particular vegetable, the term was used by settlers to denote the time when all Indians harvested.

Wikimedia Commons

This is what comes up in Wikimedia Commons when searching for "Indian summer."