Guest blog by Pat Wahler
There is an abundance of information, some accurate and some pure fantasy, on the infamous outlaw Jesse James. He had a wife, and I couldn’t help but wonder about her. Why would she marry a man on the wrong side of the law? Why would she stand by him despite his reputation? It surprised me to discover there were few facts about Zee Mimms James and her role in Jesse’s life. My book is an attempt to make Mrs. Jesse James more than a footnote.
During the American Civil War loyalties were deeply divided. Neighbors who had once been friends became enemies, and this was especially pronounced in Missouri, where Zee lived. A border state, Missouri officially held allegiance to the Union, but pockets of planters remained defiant, siding with the Confederacy. Zee’s family, along with Jesse’s, fell into the latter category. Even after the war, the bitterness continued. Some men, like Jesse, continued a vengeful battle against those with Federal ties.
Zee and Jesse were first cousins who fell in love when she was nursing him back to health after a near-fatal chest wound. The couple defied her parents to wed at the height of Jesse’s infamy and lived the seven years of their marriage under assumed names, nearly always on the run. Jesse frequently wandered from home for extended periods of time, leaving Zee alone to deal with his deeds. She had reason to fear for her own life as well as that of her children.
Yet she remained loyal to her husband, despite the lurid tales newspapers printed. With her spiritual upbringing—her father was a Methodist minister—she must have been deeply torn over the contrast between what she heard and the loving husband she knew. Zee clearly made mistakes, but I began to understand her as a woman of grit and determination, despite my suspicion that she may have suffered from bouts of depression. She had the courage to protect her family, care for her loved ones, and do what she had to do in a difficult world.
The quiet and unassuming woman I discovered was the one who might, had enough time been granted, reshaped the bloody fate of Jesse James.
Pat Wahler is an award-winning writer with fifteen stories in the popular Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Her work also appears in Sasee Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Kansas City Voices, Storyteller Magazine, and other publications. I am Mrs. Jesse James releases on August 28, 2018. Find out more about Pat’s other new releases at www.patwahler.com
If you like historical fiction, check out my new novel The Greenest Branch, based on the life of Hildegard of Bingen, Germany’s first female physician. It is out now in ebook and paperback on Amazon US, Amazon UK, and several other Amazon marketplaces. It is also FREE on Kindle Unlimited.