Sunday, October 1, 2017

The story behind John T. McCutcheon's 1907 "Injun Summer" article in the Chicago Tribune.

In historical writing and analysis, PRESENTISM introduces present-day ideas and perspectives into depictions or interpretations of the past. Presentism is a form of cultural bias that creates a distorted understanding of the subject matter. Reading modern notions of morality into the past is committing the error of presentism. Historical accounts are written by people and can be slanted, so I try my hardest to present fact-based and well-researched articles.

Facts don't require one's approval or acceptance.

I present [PG-13] articles without regard to race, color, political party, or religious beliefs, including Atheism, national origin, citizenship status, gender, LGBTQ+ status, disability, military status, or educational level. What I present are facts — NOT Alternative Facts — about the subject. You won't find articles or readers' comments that spread rumors, lies, hateful statements, and people instigating arguments or fights.

When I write about the INDIGENOUS PEOPLE, I follow this historical terminology:
  • The use of old commonly used terms, disrespectful today, i.e., REDMAN or REDMEN, SAVAGES, and HALF-BREED are explained in this article.
Writing about AFRICAN-AMERICAN history, I follow these race terms:
  • "NEGRO" was the term used until the mid-1960s.
  • "BLACK" started being used in the mid-1960s.
  • "AFRICAN-AMERICAN" [Afro-American] began usage in the late 1980s.


INJUN SUMMER by John T. McCutcheon. Chicago Tribune, September 30, 1907 and reprinted yearly, starting in 1912, until it appeared for its last yearly printing in the Chicago Tribune on Oct. 25, 1992. 
WALL ART UP TO 40" x 60"
Printing Options: Archival Paper (+Framing Options), Metal, and Acrylic.

One day in the early fall of 1907, cartoonist John T. McCutcheon found himself groping for inspiration for a drawing to fill his accustomed spot on the front page of the Tribune.

He thought back to his boyhood in the 1870s in the lonely cornfields of Indiana. "There was, in fact, little on my young horizon in the mid-1870s beyond corn and Indian traditions," he recalled later. "It required only a small effort of the imagination to see spears and tossing feathers in the tasseled stalks, tepees through the smoky haze..."

That "small effort of imagination" became McCutcheon's classic drawing "Injun Summer," which was first published on this date. It was accompanied by a lengthy discourse with the plain-spoken charm of Mark Twain. McCutcheon's astute folk poetry captured the enigmatic mood of nature's most puzzling season. 

The cartoon proved so popular that it made an annual appearance in the Chicago Tribune beginning in 1912 and ran in many other newspapers over the years.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

By Stephan Benzkofer, Chicago Tribune; October 16, 2011.

"Injun Summer," an earlier era's celebration of autumn and childhood imagination, took on a life of its own — almost literally.

The famous cartoon first appeared on September 30, 1907, on Page One, the answer to a looming deadline on a slow news day. John T. McCutcheon, inspired by a string of beautiful, warm autumn days and remembering his youth in Indiana, conjured up the illustration that became one of the most popular features in Tribune history.

The Tribune reprinted it in 1910, on page 4, in response to readers' requests, and then annually this time of year from 1912 to 1992.

As early as 1919, the "famous" cartoon had become a "much-loved" annual event, the Tribune said in promoting a high-quality print — "ready for framing" — that the newspaper included in an upcoming Sunday edition.

The cartoon wouldn't be contained to its annual appearance on newsprint.

The Indiana State Fair reproduced it as a feature exhibit in 1928. At the Century of Progress World's Fair in 1933-34, it was a life-size diorama and was reproduced in a fireworks display.

In 1920, the Indiana Society of Chicago presented a dramatized version of the work to honor McCutcheon. His son, John Jr., a future Tribune editorial page editor, played the boy. Neighborhood, school, and social groups acted out "Injun Summer" scores of times, as recently as 1977. One of the biggest dramatizations involved 1,100 children performing it at Soldier Field in August 1941 as part of the Tribune-sponsored Chicagoland Music Festival. A very popular display with mannequins appeared yearly at the Olson Rug Company's Memorial Park and Waterfall on Chicago's Northwest Side. McCutcheon's original black-and-white drawing is in the collection of the Chicago History Museum.

Over time, the cartoon came to evoke anger as well as nostalgia. As early as 1970, readers wrote letters complaining that the Tribune was running an ethnically insensitive feature that misrepresented the brutal reality of Native American history in the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries. Letter writers also were unhappy with the idea that "they ain't no more left," pointing out that Indians still lived and worked in Chicago.

In the 1990s, Tribune editors decided to end the annual tradition. Douglas Kneeland, the Tribune's public editor at the time, said, "Injun Summer is out of joint with its times. It is literally a museum piece, a relic of another age. The farther we get from 1907, the less meaning it has for the current generation."

Still, the cartoon has a powerful hold over many Chicagoans. For generations of readers, "Injun Summer," despite its flaws, became synonymous with the magic and peacefulness of those last warm days of the season.


  1. My favorite picture! have it upstairs in bed room!

  2. I looked forward to seeing this every Fall. I purchased the print (from the Trib. I think) a few years ago, framed it, and enjoy the nostalgic value of the piece. It comes out every year in celebration of the season.

  3. Political correctness be damned.

  4. Thanks, Neill. Time to pull hang up my copy for a month. was a pure seasonal icon, along with warm Homecoming games, letter sweaters and giant mum corsages. Mmmm, I can almost smell those leaves.

  5. Good read and history of the phrase Indian Summer. I wonder if the same people who find the story insensitive use the phrase Indian Summer.

  6. Along with the raking and burning of leaves.

  7. Loved the story. So sad that the Trib stopped publishing it. I looked forward to it every Autumn.

  8. I have a copy framed and hanging in my bedroom. I have also given copies as gifts to friends who remember a time when people weren't so uptight and could appreciate something this wonderful.

  9. You made my day, again! When the summer is over and it's still in the 80's and 90's were I am, it brings me back to a place where everyone knows my name....Thank you Neil!

  10. Was Mr Cassell a Palos Park Resident the model for this Famous Painting? Some people think it was him.There is also a school of thought he used the Cassell yard,in his print.

    1. John T. McCutcheon was an artist. The two cells are illustrations, not a painting. If you would have read the article first, you would know that the images came from his imagination.

  11. LOVE THIS, I enjoy reading it every year and have been since I first saw it when I was a little girl.

  12. When I see/read articles such as this one, I remember sitting with my Grampa or on his lap while he read the "papers" to me and, I DO remember sitting with him and seeing this great piece of nostalgia.
    Sometimes we can actually re~smell the smells we smelled back
    Thank you for this.
    My Grampa was my favorite of all my family.


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