“It’s the first spell of unseasonably mild weather coming after the first widespread frost of the fall season,” Rao says. So, contrary to popular perception, Indian Summer is not just warmer-than-usual weather in September or October—it can come as late as November in the tri-state area. Regarding the origins of the not-so-politically-correct term, the first documented use, according to some, is in a 1778 tome by J. H. St. John de Crèvecœur called Letters From an American Farmer. Rao is not so sure about that. “There is no record of the origin of the term,” he says, but, according to the late painter Eric Sloane, who, says Rao, was well versed in weather lore, “old almanacs from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries spoke frequently of ‘Red Man’s Summer,’ and the ‘Indian fire fogs of late autumn.’ Perhaps the early settlers sometimes mistook the haze of late New England autumn air for the campfires of Indians.”
Politically incorrect though it may be, “Native American Summer” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.