A Few Quiet Moments Under a Mattress

On April 24, 1874, after waiting through a nine-year engagement and defying the wishes of her parents, Zee Mimms donned a white silk dress, walked into her sister’s parlor, and stood beside her waiting groom. It might have been a beautiful scene typical of the era—an intimate wedding in a family home, a pretty young woman marrying her handsome cousin.

Zerelda_(Zee)_Mimms_James
The real Zerelda “Zee” James. By Unknown – James Farm Museum, Kearney, Missouri, Public Domain

But before the couple could say “I do,” a warning arrived and the bride found herself whisked from the room and hidden under a feather mattress. The groom, notorious outlaw Jesse James, rushed out of the house and took off on horseback leading pursuing detectives on a wild chase through the woods.

He returned to the house a little more than an hour later and made Zee his wife. With little time to celebrate, the newlyweds dashed off into a future that would involve a lot of evading, some assuming of false identities, a fair amount of heartache, and deep and undeniable love.

I have to assume it’s not easy to love an outlaw. If detectives had crashed my wedding, I might have taken those few quiet moments under the mattress to reconsider the choices that had led to my current predicament. But not Zee.

That’s hard for me to imagine. And thankfully I don’t have to, because author Pat Wahler has done that for me. Her new book, I Am Mrs. Jesse James, is out this week and if you’re a fan of historical fiction like I am, I think you’ll enjoy it. The book tells the story of Zee James, no small task given the scant records the James family left behind, and the little scholarly research that has been focused specifically on her.

I Am Mrs. Jesse James
The fictional Zee James. Also you may recognize the author whose insightful quote graces the cover.

The story of Zee hiding under the mattress comes from the writings of Stella McGown James, daughter-in-law to Zee and Jesse. When I asked Pat to share with me her favorite true story from Zee’s life, this is the one she chose. And rightly so. Just picture it.

Weddings can be stressful events, and brides worry about a lot of things, but being forced into hiding under a mattress is probably not often one of them. Then again, I would guess these days just as few women marry famous outlaws as marry their first cousins. Neither of those options seems very wise. But Zee certainly made her choice with her eyes wide open and her heart full of longing. Her story makes for a delightful read.

Also, if you like historical fiction, and you are looking for a good read, in just SEVEN MORE DAYS my new historical novel, Gentleman of Misfortune (sneak peek here), hits the shelves (mostly metaphorically—you will probably have to order it). By then, you should be just about finished with I Am Mrs. Jesse James.

12 thoughts on “A Few Quiet Moments Under a Mattress

  1. Thanks so much, Sarah! I love the way you set the scene. I think it’s fair to say Zee made several not-so-wise choices, but ah, me. Love can cloud the ability to see things clearly.

  2. I have officially added this book to my list! 🙂 Great introduction to the review by the way 🙂 This book sounds like it might be similar in style to the book “Varina” by Charles Frazier – a historical fiction account of the life of Varina Davis.

  3. This sounds far more interesting than my wedding day which only involved going to the beach where we met up with the county judge then went for pizza. Of course, I married a librarian, not Jesse James, so that might explain a few things.

  4. Marcia Gaye

    I recently stopped in at Main St Books in St Charles to ask for both books. They weren’t on the shelf yet but there will be a signing on Oct 6th for I Am Mrs. Jesse James by Pat Wahler. I will be procuring my autographed copy! Where might I attend a signing or reading by Sarah Angleton for Gentleman of Misfortune?

I love comments! Please keep them PG, though. I blush easily.

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