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Zerelda Cole James Samuel (1825 – 1911)

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Zerelda Cole James Samuel was the mother of the outlaw Jesse James. She was born Zerelda Elizabeth Cole on January 29, 1825, in Woodford County, Kentucky, to James and Sarah Cole. Her father was killed in a horse accident when she was two. In 1839 fourteen-year-old Zerelda entered a Catholic school for girls. She met Robert James, a college student, and they were married on December 20, 1841.

In 1842 Zerelda and Robert moved to Clay County, Missouri, to live with her mother and stepfather. After the birth of her first child, Zerelda moved to the farm where she would live the rest of her life. Zerelda bore four children with Robert James: Frank, Robert, Jr., who died shortly after birth, Jesse, and Susan.

After suffering the death of her husband Robert, Zerelda married Benjamin Simms briefly, then a doctor named Reuben Samuel in 1855. She had several children with Dr. Samuel.

Zerelda Cole James Samuel was a Confederate
Confederacy is a term used to identify the states that seceded from the United States and formed their own separate government during the Civil War. "Confederacy" is also used interchangeably with the terms "the South" and "the Confederate States of America."

Confederate is the term used to identify an individual who was loyal to the Confederacy.
sympathizer who fiercely defended her son Jesse’s guerrilla
A guerrilla is someone who fights in a war but is not part of an officially recognized military force. Often outnumbered or facing forces with superior weaponry, guerrillas rely on ambushes, raids, and surprise attacks. Their unconventional style of warfare includes attacking and killing civilians, which conventional militaries typically forbid. One of the most well-known guerrilla raids of the Civil War occurred in 1863 when Confederate guerrillas from Missouri raided Lawrence, Kansas, killed over two hundred men and boys, and burned the town. Guerrillas in Missouri were also called bushwhackers because they frequently launched attacks from heavily wooded areas in order to surprise the enemy and often in hid in rugged, forested terrain that made it difficult for the enemy to pursue them.
activities. In 1875 she was maimed when Pinkerton
The Pinkerton National Detective Agency was founded in 1850 in Chicago by Allan Pinkerton as a private law enforcement organization. The agency provided private security services to businesses and individuals and also performed military contract work. It became famous after its agents claimed to have foiled an assassination plot against Abraham Lincoln after he was elected president. Lincoln later hired Pinkerton agents during the Civil War to protect him. Pinkerton agents were also hired to track Missouri outlaws such as Jesse James and the Younger brothers.
agents threw a firebomb into her farmhouse in the hope of catching Jesse. After Jesse’s death, Zerelda had him buried on her property. She lived the rest of her life in the shadow of her son’s controversial legacy. She died on February 10, 1911.
Text by Carlynn Trout with research assistance by Elizabeth Engel

Meets Show-Me Standards SS: 2, 6, 7; 4th grade GLE 2a.A.

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References and Resouces

For more information about Zerelda Cole James Samuel's life and career, see the following resources:

Society Resources

The following is a selected list of books, articles, and manuscripts about Zerelda Cole James Samuel in the research centers of The State Historical Society of Missouri. The Society’s call numbers follow the citations in brackets. All links will open in a new tab.


  • Books
    • James, Stella F. In the Shadow of Jesse James. Thousand Oaks, CA: Revolver Press, 1990. [REF F508.1 J236]
    • McGrane, Martin Edward. The James Farm: Its People, Their Lives and Their Times. Pierre, SD: Caleb Perkins Press, 1982. [REF F508.1 J234mc2]

Outside Resources

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Historic Missourians: Zerelda Cole James Samuel
Zerelda Cole James Samuel (1825 – 1911)Zerelda Cole James Samuel (1825 – 1911).

[SHS 001138]

Zerelda Cole James Samuel

Born: January 29, 1825
Died: February 10, 1911 (age 86)
Categories: Folk Legends, Women
Region of Missouri: Northwest
Missouri County: Clay
Related Biographies: Jesse James,
Robert James, Frank James