Barber and Letter Carrier
Buried in Rosedale Cemetery,
John Bolton arrived in Phoenix about 1890. During his short life of 36 years, he journeyed from Kansas to San Diego, California, before relocating to Phoenix for his health.
Bolton had been born in Tennessee. African-American and a barber by trade, Bolton began his career in Phoenix by working in Frank Shirley’s barber shop, The Fashion. Bolton’s wife Hattie worked at the Alhambra on Papago.
Bolton was not a man to be easily intimidated. While walking home from work late in December, 1892, he was accosted by a thief. Seizing a brick, Bolton hit the footpad in the face and made his escape unscathed.
Soon after his arrival in Phoenix, Bolton became active in local politics. He was elected as an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention from Maricopa County in April, 1896, the year in which William McKinley won his first term as president.
In June 1897, Bolton contracted to have a one-story brick residence built at Fillmore and North 2nd Street. A well-read man, Bolton was elected president of the Colored Literary Society in December, 1897.
As Bolton prospered in his profession, he opened a barber shop in a more prestigious location, the new Adams Hotel in downtown Phoenix. In September 1898, he also took a civil service exam and became one of the first black letter carriers in the city.
Bolton seems to have been a bit of a practical jokester. When he made the acquaintance of African American men recently arrived in Phoenix, he was not above engaging in a little hazing. First, Bolton would suggest that his new companion accompany him to a local park to meet some of the town’s young ladies. Once there, a confederate would jump out of the bushes and fire a couple of gunshots, causing the poor chap to take to his heels with Bolton close behind. Not until the newcomer stopped to draw breath would Bolton innocently remark that the shooter must have been the overprotective father of one of the young ladies.
Unfortunately, the desert air was not restorative for John Bolton and he died at his home on North Second Street of a lung hemorrhage on December 26, 1902, leaving behind his wife and son. The funeral was attended by his many friends and customers. His grave in Rosedale Cemetery North is marked with a simple headstone.
© 2020 by Derek Horn and Donna Carr. Last revised 18 December 2020.
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Photo Courtesy of the Pioneers’ Cemetery Association