I Am Mrs. Jesse James

Written by Pat Wahler
Review by K. M. Sandrick

At the age of 15 in 1860 Missouri, Zerelda (Zee) Mimms is unwilling to settle for an arranged marriage; she vows to never marry except for true love. Five years later, while nursing her first cousin to recovery after a bullet wound to the chest at the close of the Civil War, Zee realizes she has found her mate—Jesse James. Weeks later James proposes to Zee, “his anchor,” but the marriage doesn’t take place for another nine years. While Bushwhackers ambush Northern sympathizers who have looted and burned the properties of friends of the South, Zee questions the truth of reports that blame Jesse and Frank James for increasingly audacious acts against so-called Federal outrages.

Nevertheless, after her marriage Zee is on the run, traveling and living under an assumed name, even facing off against a man seeking to cash in on a reward for information about the outlaw Jesse James. Yet the plot is more fact than feeling. Where is the anger when Jesse carries a weapon in front of their child? The lament when Jesse is unable to settle down to farming like his brother has? The doubt that she might have done more to make a home for her family?

Zee periodically makes observations about the uncertainties that dog her life with a notorious figure: suspicions about her husband spending late nights with associates or taking wary glances out the kitchen window. Her more deep-seated feelings are for the most part left to the reader’s imagination. So when she acknowledges to a Federal marshal investigating her husband’s death that she is indeed Mrs. Jesse James, one wonders if she says it with pride or more than a little regret.