Rebecca Smith - Garden design & consultancy

The glories of October

When I was young, growing up near Chicago, the term Indian Summer meant many things to me: long warm days filled with the smell of bonfires (until those were banned in my suburban Chicago neighbourhood) and decay; the sound of cracking leaves underfoot; golden sunsets silhouetting trees and long long shadows.

autumn colour

The term 'Indian summer' is an Americanism defined as 'a period of mild, dry weather, usually accompanied by a hazy atmosphere, occuring usually in late October or early November, and following a period of colder weather.' 

But if you grew up in Chicago in the 70's like I did, you may remember that the Chicago Tribune used to run a short piece annually entitled 'Injun Summer'. This was written by cartoonist John T. McCutcheon and first published on 30 September 1907. Mr. McCutcheon won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 - the first Tribune staff member to do so. The drawings and the accompanying text ran until 1992 when it was pulled due to complaints due to its outdated and offensive view of Native Americans. I found the drawings enchanting as a child and still love their depiction of the curling smoke rising from the bonfire changing in the child's eye to become dancing Indians. 

Injum Summer

The piece ran as this, read it out loud for the full effect of a true Midwestern accent...

Yep, sonny this is sure enough Injun Summer. Don't know what that is, I reckon, do you? Well, that is when all the homesick Injuns come back to play; You know, a long time ago, long afore yer granddaddy was born even, there used to be heaps of Injuns around here - thousands - millions, I reckon, far as that's concerned. Reg'lar sure 'nough Injuns - none o' yer cigar store Injuns, not much. They wuz all around here, right here where you're standin'.

Don't be skeered - hain't none around here now, leastways no live ones. They been gone this many a year. 

They all went away and died, so they ain't no more left.

Injun Summer night

But every year, long about now, they all come back, leastways their sperrits do. They're here now. You can see 'em off across the fields. Look real hard. See that kind of hazy misty look out yonder? Well, them's Injuns - Injun sperrits marchin' along and dancin' in the sunlight. That's what makes that kind of haze that's everywhere - it's jest the sperrits of the Injuns all come back. They're all around us now. 

See off yonder, see them teepees? They kind o' look like corn shocks from here, but thems Injun tents, sure as you're a foot high. See 'em now? Sure, I knowed you could. Smell that smoky sort o' smell in the air? That's their campfires a-burnin'g and their pipes a goin'.

Lot's o' pepople say it's just leaves burning but it ain't. It's the campfires, an' th' Injuns are hoppin' 'round 'em t'beat the old Harry. 

You jest come out here tonight when the moon is hangin' over the hill off yonder an' the harvest fields is all swimmin' in the moonlight, an' you can see the Injuns and the teepees jest as plain as kin be. You can, eh? I knowed you would after a little while.

Jever notice how the leaves turn red 'bout this time o' year? That;s jest another sign o' redskins. That's when an old Injun sperrit gets tired dancin' an' goes up an' squats on a leaf t'rest. Why I kin hear 'em rustlin' an' whisper in' an' creepin' 'round amoung the leaves all the time, an ever once'n a while a leaf gives way under some fat old Injun ghost and comes floatin' down to the ground. See - here's one now. See how red it is? That's the war paint rubbed off'n Injun ghost, sure's you're born.

Purty soon all the Injuns'll go marchin' away agin, back to the happy huntin' ground, but next year, you'll see 'em all troopin' back - th' sky jest hazy with 'em and their campfires smoulderin' away jest like they are now. 

long shadows


The Chicago Tribune stated that they would no longer run the feature and Douglas Kneeland, the public editor at the time, wrote that Injun Summer 'was out of joint with it's time. It is literally a museum piece, a relic of another age. The further we get from 1907, the less meaning it has for the current generation.'

The drawings, though, will always remind me of being young and autumn and long warm days spent doing nothing but poking the bonfire, collecting acorns and watching the leaves fall from the trees...

fallen leaves



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