A gallery of selected images, items, and memorabilia from Xerpha Gaines’ trunk.


From “The Love Letters” by Hannelore Sudermann:

…Summer 2008 the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Edward and Xerpha Gaines returned to eastern Washington. They talked and laughed, piecing together their own memories of Edward and Xerpha, and mentioning the bundle of letters that gave them the details of their grandparent’s romance.

At the end of the reunion, they delivered to Washington State University an astonishing gift–Xerpha’s steamer trunk which holds nearly a century of private papers detailing the life of a woman whose story is not only threaded through the University’s, but also through the story of agriculture in Washington State.

Worn and heavy, with a torn label bearing Xerpha’s name on the side, the trunk contains a variety of treasures: a prayer book, a tiny box full of beads, a wedding dress, an envelope of pictures of Xerpha as a girl, Edward Gaines’s correspondence as a scientist, and a water-stained box bearing the label “Old Hampshire Bond: The Stationery of a Gentleman.”

The stationery box invites more scrutiny: Inside is a stack of letters wrapped with a white silk ribbon, now yellowed and frayed. The first, dated May 29, 1910, is addressed to Miss Xerpha McCulloch, Othello, Wash. It starts with “Dear–Sister?–Xerpha?–Friend? Which shall it be?” Edward describes their parting at the Ritzville station as he watched Xerpha board the train for home. A few hours later, the letter notes, Edward got on another train bound for Spokane, as he made his way to Pullman where he was a student at Washington State College.

The content is hardly the hot words of young lovers, though. Throughout the dozens of letters covering two full years, they discuss teaching Sunday school, Edward’s agronomy studies, Xerpha’s work at the Othello post office, her mother’s health, and his visits home to his family’s farm.