So, what is an Indian summer?

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

Vincent Schilling

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.

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.


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Bradley Robinson
Bradley Robinson
Submitted by Bradley Robinson on
The Algonquin Anishinabek on the lower Ottawa River were some of the 1st peoples to encounter the illegal European immigrants. At Kitigan Zibi First Nation near Maniwaki, they say Anishinabe Nibin for Indian Summer. Anishinabe means man, Anishinabek means the people, but nowadays Anishinabe is more like saying that you're indigenous/native/"Indian." Nibin means Summer. I don't know if the words "Indian Summer" was a European translation of the Native phrase "Anishinabe Nibin", or was it a European phrase that the Anishinabek translated into Anishinabe mwen language.

aliberaldoseofskepticism's picture
Submitted by aliberaldoseofs... on
I always assumed it was because it was summer all year round in India or something.