Johnnie Love was an early-day pioneer remembered by many in Flagstaff for his incredible stamina and exceptional memory. He arrived in Flagstaff with his widower father in March 1880, when he was 15 years old. Apparently, he got along poorly with his father because three weeks after his arrival, he ran away from him and never returned.
Those were the years when the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad (later to become the Santa Fe) was under construction. Love hid out near a tie-cutter camp and was more or less adopted by the workmen, who took him food and helped him build a shelter.
He worked at various jobs — delivering mail for a local storeowner, washing dishes, hauling water and doing laundry for the rail crews — until finally he managed to save $85, not an insubstantial sum in those days.
He then made the mistake of telling a local bartender he planned to leave the money in the safekeeping of storeowner P.J. Brannen. The bartender encouraged him to bury it in a safe spot instead, and then made off with it, leaving young Love with nothing.
At age 18, he was hired on at the Ashurst Ranch, 25 miles southeast of Flagstaff. Henry F. Ashurst, who would later become one of Arizona’s first U.S. senators, was just a small boy at the time and found it hard to keep up with Love. He handled chores and deliveries for the family. One legendary day, he milked the cows in the morning, churned the butter, carried it to town, picked up the mail and groceries and walked back to the ranch — a 50 mile round trip — all in the space of 10 hours. Upon his return, he completed the evening milking.
In 1884, Love worked as a caretaker at a railroad construction site near Fulton Canyon, south of Mormon Lake. He was snowed in and spent 22 weeks in a hut on the property. The last nine weeks, he subsisted on bacon grease and bread. When the weather finally broke, he hiked to the nearest ranch, repaired his shoes, then hiked 45 miles to the Canyon Diablo Railroad station (a seven-hour trip) and took the train to Flagstaff.
He married Hannah Lipling in October 1913, and settled at a place near Montezuma Well, about 50 miles south of Flagstaff. He could walk that distance in a day, and did so each spring and fall.
In the 1920s, he made his living cleaning houses in Flagstaff and selling wild fruit for 15 cents a pound door to door. By then, with his frugal ways, he had saved enough money to lend it to others.
In the 1930s, he and his wife began spending their winters in Pasadena and their summers in Flagstaff. During the summer, Love worked for Babbitt’s selling vegetables door to door. One day, he took 87 orders, turned them in orally and then delivered every one without a single mistake.
A Flagstaff native still remembers how impressed she was with Love’s memory. He was near the entrance of Babbitt’s as she, her mother and a neighbor lady walked by. She was only four or five at the time, and Love saw her mother swat her backside for misbehaving. Years later as a teenager, she and her mother saw Love again at Babbitt’s, and he still remembered that long ago day and said he hoped that she no long misbehaved and needed swatting.
In October 1942, Love and his wife returned to Pasadena for the winter. Two months later, on Dec. 21, he passed away.
— Arizona Capitol Times archive.