The other day, as I was walking home for lunch, I was stopped by a local businessman who praised my history column and chatted with me a bit about news coverage in the East Oregonian. We got onto the subject of the Main Street statue kerfuffle, and he asked about the history of the statue of legendary lawman Til Taylor, which holds court in the park named after him in Southeast Pendleton. This week, as I was searching the archives for a photo for a woman in Florida, I came across a news story about Taylor’s murder and the commissioning of the statue that memorializes him. It was kismet, I guess.
Tilman D. Taylor was hired as a deputy sheriff in 1898, and was elected Umatilla County Sheriff in 1912. He served in that capacity for the next eight years, until he was gunned down while trying to prevent a jailbreak on July 25, 1920. During his time as sheriff he was responsible for thousands of arrests, without once firing a shot. Even as he lay dying in St. Anthony Hospital he was directing the search for the three gunmen involved; they were all returned to custody by July 31 and all were hanged for his death.
Sheriff Taylor also was elected president of the Pendleton Round-Up Association in 1912, and donned cowboy attire each year during Round-Up Week. It was in this costume that sculptor A. Phimister Proctor immortalized Taylor for the 11-foot-tall statue that depicts him riding his horse. (Contrary to popular belief, while working Sheriff Taylor favored business suits and black or brown Oxfords, not cowboy attire.) Proctor was a regular visitor to the Round-Up and fascinated by the cowboys and Indians; he also knew Taylor well.
A committee was formed to take donations, the first $25 coming July 30, 1920, just days after Taylor was killed, from W.R. Frey of Vancouver, B.C. In all, $20,000 was collected, and Proctor recreated Taylor’s likeness in Rome and Brussels before shipping the statue to Portland. From there the Penland Brothers of Pendleton brought the statue by truck over the narrow, crooked highway to its new home.
The statue was installed on a 4-foot-tall granite base, surrounded by reflecting pools, and dedicated Sept. 18, 1929, before thousands of people. Speaking at the dedication were Governor I.L. Patterson; Roy Raley, who introduced the sculptor, Proctor; and Poker Jim, chief of the Round-Up’s Indian delegation, who recalled that it was because Til Taylor invited the tribes to take part in the Round-Up that they brought their camps every year. More than 200 police officers, sheriffs and federal officers from Oregon, Washington, Idaho and California also attended the dedication, as well as Til Taylor’s widow and members of his family.
Til Taylor Park is a popular one in the summer with parents of young children, where a wading pool has replaced the reflecting pools, but it is not as well-used as others in town. Still, Taylor keeps vigil at the eastern end of Pendleton, a town he protected so well until his untimely demise.