“Indian Summer”


I just recently read that the equator was in the direct path of the sun, day and night were of equal length, and the North and South Poles received equal light.   Upon reading that, I nearly threw the paper down and like Chicken Little, begin running around warning everyone that “The sky is falling!”


However, I found that the words weren’t nearly as ominous as they sounded.  I quickly realized that it was only a description of the “autumn equinox” and it happens every year.  It is more commonly known as the first day of autumn.  However, another term that is frequently used during this time of year is “Indian summer” and I began to wonder just what exactly was Indian summer, and where did the name originate? 


For some reason, I had a picture in my mind of Indian sweethearts out strolling hand in hand in the sunshine amid the colorful wilderness foliage on a beautiful autumn day.  However, even if there were some truth in that, there remained the question of who decided to call this time of year Indian summer rather than Caucasian Summer or any number of other ethnic combinations.  I assumed that there surely was a reason so I began to do a little research.


I discovered that the American Meteorological Society defined Indian Summer as:  "A time interval, in the mid to late autumn of unseasonably warm weather, generally with clear skies, sunny but hazy days, and cool nights.”  This seemed like a good explanation but it still didn’t tell me what the whole thing had to do with Indians. The earliest usage of the term that I could find was in 1778, when it was used by a Frenchman named St. John de Crevecoeur, yet he described it as if the term “Indian Summer” had already been used before so I still could not find where the term began.

Some other information that I found was that the term, “Indian summer” might have come about because it was the time of year that the Indians would begin to hunt when the cooler weather began.

Another completely different explanation that I came across had to do with the Indian Ocean rather than the American Indian as we might naturally suppose the name might have meant.  It said that many years ago ships sailing on the Indian Ocean took the opportunity to load most of their cargo during that time of year when it was cooler yet a fair weather season, thus the term “Indian summer”.  It was said that some ships even had “I.S.” on their hulls to show the load level that was safe during the Indian summer. 



With all the varying opinions as to the source of the name, “Indian summer”, the most popular belief that most people agree on is that it is an abnormally warm and dry period of time in autumn, usually in October or November.  This time may vary in length but it comes after a killing frost or freeze.  There may also be several occurrences of Indian summer in the same year or no occurrences at all.


After researching Indian summer, it seems that nobody really knows for sure where the name came from, but one thing I do know is that we had better enjoy the few fleeting days, if we are blessed with them, because Indian summer doesn’t stay around long before winter comes along.  If snow and ice fall on Chicken Little’s head, he may convince you that the sky is falling, but just a word to the wise, if you see Foxy Loxy,. …don’t go home with him.



Pamela R. Blaine

© October 2003