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

Return to article: The Love Letters

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

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.