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Are they decorations or desecration?

PENDLETON — A scuffle over decorations on Pendleton's Jackson Sundown statue has led a couple to petition the city council for its approval to continue dressing up the bronze.

So far 29 people, including the couple who started the petition, have signed their support.

Pamela Harmon, 50, and her husband, Tim Becker, 39, live on the 100 block of Pendleton's South Main Street above the bronze of Sundown, born Waaya-Tonah-Toesits-Kahn, the Nez Perce man who at the age of 53 won the Pendleton Round-Up in 1916. Harmon said she is a fourth-generation descendant of Sundown's, and she and her husband first decorated the statue last Halloween.

"We got a huge response," Harmon said. "And we did it again for Christmas and then for St. Paddy's Day."

They graced the bronze with green glasses, an oversized green top hat sporting a shamrock and banner that said, "Kiss me! I'm Irish." All of it, they said, was about fun.

Saturday afternoon, though, Harmon said she found someone removed the decorations, so they replaced them. Moments later she spied a man yanking them off again. Harmon threw open her window and yelled at the man to stop, she said, and he shouted back the decorations were desecrating the representation of Sundown. Becker made for the downstairs door.

"I went down the stairs because he had our hat, the St. Paddy hat, in his hand," Becker said. "I grabbed the hat and went back into the building."

The man followed Becker inside and grabbed him by the back of the neck. Becker said he wore a tank top, and the scar from his neck surgery to remove discs is easy to see. Becker said he reacted.

"I used my forearm and pushed him against the mailboxes ... and opened the door with my other hand," Becker told the East Oregonian. "The guy was in his 60s or 70s."

Becker said he did not want to hurt the man, he only wanted him gone. When Becker returned upstairs, though, Harmon said the man had their other decorations and was heading north on Main.

They followed in a car and caught up to the man at the intersection of Northwest Fourth Street and Ellis Avenue. Becker said Harmon bailed from the car before he stopped and confronted the decoration-taker.

"He grabbed her by the wrist and swung her," Becker said, "and hit her with the bag in his left hand." The impact broke blood vessels in her face, he said.

The couple called police, but officers did not find the man. Pendleton police Chief Stuart Roberts said the suspect was white with short gray hair and a short mustache, about 6 feet tall and thin.

Roberts also said no one was injured, and police are looking at a potential harassment case, not an assault.

Becker said if police catch the man, he will press charges. He said his neck has ached since the fracas, but he has not gone to a doctor.

The couple said they wanted to find a way to make sure that decorating the statues was OK. Becker said he called Pendleton City Manager Robb Corbett over and over Monday until they spoke. Corbett recommended a petition, Becker said.

"Within 24 hours we got all those signatures," Becker said. "We are really persistent in getting this done."

Several signers work downtown near the statue, including at Beckman Saddles, Frazier Office Supply and Virgil's at Cimmiyotti's. Harmon said only two people she approached would not sign the petition — one for personal reasons and one who is against signing petitions for religious reasons. Harmon presented the petition Tuesday night to the Pendleton City Council.

Harmon said the council gave a positive response. The council did not express opposition to the petition, and councilwoman Becky Marks said she found the decorations charming. The council opted to take more time, though, before taking action on the petition.

Chief Roberts added the city does not have an ordinance prohibiting the decorating of statues, and Corbett plans to allow the decorations unless and until the city receives multiple complaints.

Harmon and Becker said the statue decorations draw people to Main Street, and plenty of folks enjoy them and even take photos with the dolled-up Sundown.

"This is about making Pendleton more fun," Becker said.

Harmon said she hopes the city council sees it the same way. But if not, the couple would cease decorating.

Until then, she said, they plan on decorating the statue for Easter. And now that so many business owners and workers on Main Street are aware of the recent incident, she said, perhaps more people will keep an eye out if someone removes the adornments.

Pamela Harmon and her husband, TIm Becker, have been decorating the bronze statue of Jackson Sundown on Main Street in Pendleton since Halloween. The couple are now petitioning the city to allow them to continue decorating the statue. AP PHOTO / E.J. HARRIS.