Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jesse James: Riding Hell-Bent for Leather into Legend

Love is in the Air

Jesse and cousin Zerelda Amanda Mimms had finally "tied the knot" in April, 1874. Methodist minister William James, Jesse's uncle, had performed the Kansas City ceremony, which was followed by a reception of fifty relatives and friends. While honeymooning on the Gulf of Mexico at Galveston, Texas, a relentless reporter from the St. Louis Dispatch did what the Pinkertons had failed to do, tracked down Jesse. The outlaw obligingly offered a few words. "We had been engaged for nine years," he told the newshound, "and not withstanding the lies told upon me and the crimes laid at my door, her devotion to me has never wavered for a moment. You can say that both of us married for love, and there cannot be any sort of doubt about our marriage being a happy one."

Zerelda Amanda Mimms-James
Zerelda Amanda Mimms-James

After the honeymoon, the newlyweds secretly returned to Missouri and bought a small cabin outside of Kearney under the names Thomas and Mary Howard. (Of course his closest acquaintances knew better.) Jesse grew a wisp of a beard and dyed his light hair a dark brown to conceal his real identity further. He took no part in any illegal activity for many months, but settled down to his farm, spending time with his beauty of a wife. In time, Zerelda would bear him two children, Jesse Edward in August, 1875, and Susan in April, 1879.

Jesse's children, Susan and Jesse Jr.
Jesse's children, Susan and Jesse Jr.

Zerelda was as slow to anger as her husband was trigger-hot. She could control his temper with a smile, and he fell into her arms a pampered boy. She knew of his crimes, but looked the other way because, simply, he was her faithful, ever-loving husband who never tired of wanting to hold her hand, to kiss her goodnight. And she swooned. As Jesse had predicted, the marriage was a successful one. After Jesse died, Zerelda never cared to remarry, saying, "There'll never be another Jess."

All said, if the Pinkertons did call upon Mr. Howard in their search for the elusive Mr. James, they would have been completely taken in.

Love was in the air for the James boys. Frank wed the lovely 22-year-old Anna Ralston, a schoolteacher he had met in Independence, Missouri. Ahead of her time, she had earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Literature from Missouri State College. She shared his love for books and found in him, despite some bad press, not a bank-robbing gunslinger but a refined gentleman who could match her stanza-for-stanza on classic verse.

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