Chicago Tribune, September 30, 1907
Chicago Tribune, October 25, 1953
The Chicago Tribune’s custom of reprinting John T. McCutcheon’s “Injun Summer” every year on a suitable Sunday in October can be traced back to a Sunday afternoon of 46 years ago, when the creator of this classic drawing was seeking a subject for his next morning’s cartoon.
The inspiration came to McCutcheon on Sept. 29, 1907, when he was 37, in his studio on the 10th floor of the Fine Arts building. He occupied No. 1018, which was close to the studio of Ralph Clarkson, portrait painter. Clarkson’s atelier was called the Little Room on Friday afternoons because it was then the place of rendezvous for a coterie of artists, writers, and musicians often mentioned in the annals of Chicago’s cultural life. There were no witnesses to “Injun Summer’s”; the entire building was then in Sabbath emptiness.
It was mid-afternoon of a perfect day in early autumn and the artist was fretting about his work. No ideas worthy of a first-page drawing had come into his mind. The news of the day was in the usual Sunday doldrums. Then a glance out of his north window, from which he could overlook a portion of Grant park, reminded him that the magical mood of October, was at hand, bringing hazy sunlight, summary warmth, and reddened foliage.
Memories of his Indiana boyhood on such days as this flooded his imagination. McCutcheon’s boyhood always stood close by his side, even in his old age; now, it brushed an evocative hand across his forehead. He went to his drawing board and picked up a crayon. Then the lines and words of “Injun Summe” began to flow upon the paper as if he had been planning the design for weeks.
He has described the background of the small, awestruck boy in this cartoon, and the countryside he is staring at, in his book of memoirs, “Drawn from Memory.” Speaking of the view from the farmhouse in which he was born he says:
- I looked out over field after field of corn, all within the intimate, friendly bounds of the Wea Plaine, named for the Indian tribe formerly occupying the region. A Shawnee mound was nearby. Eight or ten miles away was the site of Ouiatenon, one of the larger villages on the Old Tecumesh trail. Northward a few near the Wabash river, lay the battlefield of Tippecanoe.
The grownups around me were continually discussing Indian campaigns still being waged thruout the west. There was, in fact, little on my young horizon in the middle ’70s beyond corn and Indian traditions. Thirty years later, while groping in the early fall for an idea, it required only a small effort of the imagination to see spears and tossing fethers in the tassled stalks, tepees thru the smoky haze; and I evolved ‘Injun Summer.’
The two panels of the familiar drawing are accompanied by about 450 words of interpretative text which would run to half a column. The manuscript of this essential part of “Injun Summer,” which is an illustrated fantasy rather than a typical newspaper cartoon, has not been preserved. The original drawing, which is always placed on exhibition by the Chicago Historical society at this time of year, does not carry the words in McCutcheon’s writing.
McCutcheon at work in his studio in his Tribune Tower studio a year before his death in 1949. He was born on May 6, 1870 in Tippecanoe County, Indiana.1
He apparently drew the illustration on a smaller sheet of paper than usual, and after finishing the two panels he wrote the supplementary story on a separate sheet. This was used in the Tribune’s composing room as “copy,” and then, after being filed for a brief period, it went the way of all such material. No one on the editorial staff or in the composing room recognized the birth of a museum piece and a collector’s item. The fantasy pleased everyone, of course, but such successes were habitual with McCutcheon. His hits came so close together that they were not earmarked by scorekeepers.
Commentators on “Injun Summer” have failed, in the past, to concentrate their attention on its literary aspect. This monolog by an old Hoosier farmer with his grandson as audience, telling a story to explain how Indian summer got its name, is a notable example of creative writing to accompany an illustration. When read apart from the drawings, it merits consideration as a masterpiece in its field, technically called “letterpress,” and also as a minor contribution to American literature.
If the “Injun Summer” prose had been written by Mark Twain, whose influence may be found in its mood and dialect spelling, it would have been applauded by critics and professors all over the the English-speaking world as a fragment that might have come out of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” or “Huckleberry Finn.” But it is not an imitation of Twai; it cannot be mentioned with condescension by scholars as a “pastiche.”
Yet I have never seen it reprinted by itself, unaided by the drawings, as an example of American folk literature that should be cherished. It will stand that test. Nor have I ever heard it recited in professional entertainment, altho it would serve admirably as a brief interlude in the repertory of a character actor specializing in monologues.
I have never found “Injun Summer” among the contents of anthologies that should have recognized its merit, such as the two “Treasuries of the Familiar,” “Desk Drawer Anthology,” and “Treasury of American Folklore.” The editor of the latter compilation may say that this best-known interpretation of a much-discussed subject is an invention, and not authentic, mass-created folklore. My answer to that objection would be, “So is Paul Bunyan.”
The dialect spellings in McCutcheon’s text, such as “Injun” and “sperrits,” follow Mark Twain’s in “Tom Sawyer,” especially in the passages where Tom and Huck Finn encounter a sinister half-breed called Injun Joe. Twain standardized certain usages in American dialect writing, but he himself was a follower of earlier printed stuff in this vein. Here are examples of the word Indian in American printing:
1670, “engiane”; 1680, “ingen”; 1758, “Indjons”; 1825, “injunn.”
When used to indicate dialect speech, “injun” is intended to suggest the illiteracy of rural characters. Nevertheless, it really represents an attempt to pronounce the word as it is marked for pronunciation in the dictionaries: “In-di-an.” with accent on the first syllable. The word cannot be pronounced that way without becoming “Indyun,” which, if the speaker is not careful to the point of affectation in dealing with “dy,” will sound like “Injun.” The only escape from the Injun predicament is to pronounce Indian as “Indin,” which nearly everyone does.
Since the first printing of “Injun Summer” was on Sept. 30, a premature date for such weather, I have asked McCutcheon’s eldest son, John T. Jr., if his father had been heckled by letter writers who object to anyone’s choice of the good old Indian summer time except their own. Young John said he never heard his father mention any back talk from such experts.
The Tribune’s annual reprinting of the cartoon began in 1912. Outside of the printing process, it has been reproduced in various ways for sundry occasions—as a tableau at a Chicagoland Music festival, as climax event of a fireworks show at the Century of Progress exposition, as a decoration for banquets of the Indiana Society of Chicago, as a show at a convocation of actual Indians, meeting for their cultural and social advancement. It has also become a mural painting in a Chicago restaurant.
Its largest reproduction in black-and-white with tect appears on a wall of the chief newsroom of The Chicago Tribune. Thousands of visitors on escorted tours thru the Tribune Tower and plant have seen it every year since its installation in February, 1923. Its first reprint in color in the Grafic Magazine was on Sunday, Oct. 15, 1933.
October 7, 1934
Yep, sonny this is sure enough Injun summer. Don’t know what that is, I reckon, do you? Well, that’s 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.
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 o’ hazy misty look out yonder? Well, them’s Injuns—Injun sperrits marchin’ along an’ dancin’ in the sunlight. That’s what makes that kind o’ 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 tepees? They kind o’ look like corn shocks from here, but them’s 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 the campfires a-burnin’ and their pipes a-goin’.
Lots o’ people say it’s just leaves burnin’, 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 tepees 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 gits tired dancin’ an’ goes up an’ squats on a leaf t’rest. Why I kin hear ’em rustlin’ an’ whisper in’ an’ creepin’ ’round among 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 an 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 troopin’ back—th’ sky jest hazy with ’em and their campfires smolderin’ away jest like they are now.
A Chicago Tribune advertisement announcing that the following Sunday, back by popular request, The Tribune will be running John T. McCutcheon’s famous cartoon “Injun Summer” in rotogravure and on special paper ready for framing. Included is a smaller picture of the original cartoon.
October 12, 1919
One of several live action duplications of “Injun Summer.”
Chicago Tribune, November 1, 1933
Cartoonist Inspects Diorama of His Famous “Injun Summer” at the Fair.
John T. McCutcheon of the Tribune with diorama of “Injun Summer,” which is on display at the Horticultural building at the Fair. The exhibit is the work of John A. Servas, executive director of the building.
Chicago Tribune, October 9, 1991
Life does not get simpler for newspapers these days any more than it does for their readers.
Now I’m not just talking about such things as the difficulty of explaining black holes—either in the universe, the economy, our educational system or the National League East.
What actually provoked this rumination was the recent mixed response to a Tribune tradition of long standing.
For most of eight decades this newspaper has been reprinting each fall the late John T. McCutcheon’s famous “Injun Summer cartoon, a huge blowup which adorns the wall outside of the editorial page editor’s office. On Sept. 15, on the last page of its special fall issue, the Chicago Tribune Magazine again presented a color reproduction of the work. The page was labeled “Midwest favorite” and the cartoon was described as “John T. McCutcheon’s classic celebration of autumn, first published in The Tribune in 1907.” (The annual reprint started in 1912.) Fine print at the bottom noted that “the original of this cartoon hangs in the Chicago Historical Society.”
But as happened with somewhat more frequency in recent autumns, the work so cherished by generations of Tribune readers attracted a flurry of letters from those offended by the 1907 sensibilities of its lengthy captions. This year the objections about matched the praise from those whom it stirs warm memories.
As sure as one writer would declare that the cartoon “never misses touching the heart with its nostagic message of the ‘spirits’ of the season,” another would condemn it as “an embarrassing relic of a time when it was acceptable to use words and phrases like ‘heaps of Injuns’ and ‘redskins’ and ‘happy huntin’ ground.'”
That’s sort of how it’s been going these years. And it’s understandable. “Injun Summer” is out of joint with its times. It is literary a museum piece, a relic of another age. The farther we get from 1907, the less meaning it has for the current generation. Even the corn shocks of the boy in the drawings are foreign to most of today’s youngsters.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning McCuthcheo, who came to the Tribune in 1903 and was considered the dean of the nation’s cartoonists when he retired 43 years later, was a gentile practionaer of the art, but words like “Injuns” or “redskins” are, of course, generally unacceptable these days.
Even the Redskins of Washington, D.C., find themselves assaulted from time to time for their archaic nom de football. And the Stanford University sports teams long since have abandoned the name “Indians” for “Cardinal.” (So far as I know this has brought no protests yet on behalf of birds or princes of the Roman Catholic church.)
But current inappropriateness in itself is not a strong enough argument to clinch the case for dropping forever what is considered by many to be a classic bit of Americana, especially one so much a part of the Tribune’s own institutional traditions. It would be akin to banning “Tom Sawyer” because of Mark Twain’s “Injun Joe” character.
Times change. Language changes. Sensibilities change. As readers and viewers we should have the good judgement to understand those changes and accept an antiquated work in the contect of its era.
At the time it was drawn, McCutcheon’s “Injun Summer,” both in content and intent, was as benevolent as the Indiana countryside where he was born and raised.
“I started getting material for that cartoon whenI was 3 or 4 years old,” the cartoonist recalled for an interview in 1943. “I was born in a farmhouse on a gentle hilltop south of Lafayette. It was surrounded by cornfields. Not far away, on the banks of the Wabash, was the site of the Indian village of Ouitenon. Six or eight miles up the river was the battlefield of Tippecanoe.
“It was the early ’70s (that’s the 1870s, remember). Newspapers were full of Indian warfare. The early fall saw the tasseled rows of corn like the waving spears of Indians and a little later came the corn shocks, much like tepees in the haze of Indian summer.
“Undoubtedly in my boyish imagination all these things were registering. Then when I was hard up for an idea they came out.”
And yiu have to be charmed by his reason for drawin it, the oldest one in the creative business,…”I was hard up for an idea…”
To me, there’s an innocence of context about the McCutcheon material that rightly defies efforts to label it as a threat to racial harmony in 1991. More to the point is whether uts annual appearance, other than offering a nostalgic glimpse of the newspaper’s past, serves any real purpose that is worth the space in the magazine.
But I have to confess if it were a nostalgic cartoon from the same era about Southern plantation life that depicted slaves eating watermelons and described them as “happy darkies,” I would not find it benign.
At any rate, the future publication schedule of John McCutcheon’s “Injun Summer” is among the matters Tribune editors are wrestling with these days. Woth a little luck, we’ll get it settled well before next autumn.
Chicago Tribune, October 18, 2011
By Stephan Benzkofer
“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 Sept. 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, on page 4, in 1910, in response to readers’ requests, and then annually this time of year from 1912 to 1992.
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 (right). 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 every year at the Olson Rug Co.’s park on the 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 John McCutcheon moved into his Tribune Tower thirty-second floor studio on March 28, 1925.