“Education in the white man’s world is enriching and essential to economic success, but it need not mean the giving up of our proud Pima heritage.”
— Anna Moore Show, in her autobiography, A Pima Past
Anna Moore Shaw wrote in her autobiography, “The white man and his cities surround us–we must embrace his ways, which are good, while keeping our pride in being Indian.” Her book, A Pima Past, published in 1974 by the University of Arizona Press, was written in the style of a family saga, she explained. It told the story of her family and of her own experiences as a 20th century Indian.
Anna Moore Shaw was born in 1898 on the Gila Indian Reservation. “I was born near Komatke in the shadow of the Estrella Mountains on the sticks beneath the bushes,” she said later in her life. Her birth name was Chehia, but when she was 10, her father, Red Arrow, was converted to Christianity and took the name of Josiah Moore. He renamed his daughter Anna. That ended Anna’s strictly traditional Pima upbringing and began her introduction into the white man’s world.
She attended the Phoenix Indian School and later Phoenix Union High School, where she graduated in 1920. A short time later, she married Ross Shaw, a Pima-Maricopa whom she had met at Phoenix Indian School.
The Shaws decided they could find greater opportunities in Phoenix, rather than on the reservation. So, for the next 40 years, they raised their children and involved themselves in civic and church activities. But they never forgot their Indian heritage. To help their children appreciate their Pima culture, Anna told them the many legends and stories she had learned as a child from tribal elders. Because she was worried that the stories would be lost in the modern world, Anna began writing them down.
“I wrote them to preserve the beauty of them for our people,” she said. “But somehow, in English–my English–the beauty just wasn’t there.”
Anna Moore Shaw studied writing at the Phoenix Evening Technical School. The result was a beautiful book, Pima Indian Legends, published in 1968 by the University of Arizona Press. Her writing was not confined to books, however. After returning to live on the Salt River Indian Reservation when her husband retired in the 1960s, Anna became the editor of the tribal newspaper, Pima Letters.
Anna also participated in the Presbyterian Church as an ordained elder, aided in the building fund drive for the Charles H. Cook Christian Training Center in Tempe, and worked to secure better housing on the reservation. The only real regret she had in her life, she once said, was that she never had a chance to attend kindergarten. “I was slow getting started educationally,” she said. “Language was a barrier. I think it would have made a big difference in my life … just going to kindergarten.”
Possibly she was right, but how much difference could it have made in the innate wisdom of Anna Moore Shaw, who achieved a magnificent blend of two cultures for herself and her children despite spirit-wounding obstacles such as prejudice? “Prejudice? I experienced some,” she once told writer Maggie Wilson in a story for the Arizona Republic. “But it never hurts you so much as it hurts when your child experiences it.” When her daughter came home from school in tears because thoughtless classmates wouldn’t hold her hand in a physical education class exercise, Anna counseled:
“We must overlook the shuns and hurts and remember that the white man has given us something far more lasting than attitudes on this earth. The white man brought us the message of Jesus Christ. I’m grateful he did.”
Anna Moore Shaw was 77 when she died on April 18, 1976, in Phoenix.