Historical Highlights

The Congressional Gold Medal Awarded to Louis L’Amour

August 26, 1982
The Congressional Gold Medal Awarded to Louis L’Amour Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
First elected in 1974, four-term Congresswoman Millicent Fenwick of New Jersey earned the epithet “Conscience of Congress” with her fiscal conservatism, human right’s advocacy, and dedication to campaign finance reform.
On this date, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation awarding fiction author Louis L’Amour the Congressional Gold Medal, an honor approved by the 97th Congress (1981–1983) on August 2, 1982. Born Louis LaMoore in North Dakota in 1908, he changed his name before selling his first short story in 1935. Following Army service during World War II, L’Amour was a relatively unnoticed author until his popular short story, “Gift of Cochise,” appeared in Collier’s magazine in 1952, catapulting him to national fame. Settling in Los Angeles, L’Amour was a prolific writer, producing more than 90 novels and publishing nearly 200 short stories. His work, mostly historical fiction, westerns, and family sagas, was translated into more than 20 languages and he recorded more than three dozen audio books before his death in 1989. President Reagan presented the medal as part of a barbecue he hosted for the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association on the South Lawn of the White House. Observing that the author “brought the West to the people of the East and to people everywhere,” he revealed himself a fan when he joked about L’Amour’s quiet approach to meet the President. “You sneaked up on me like Bowdrie,” Reagan proclaimed, referring to the Texas Ranger protagonist in several of L’Amour’s novels. Congress had approved the medal on the same day it granted medals to boxer Joe Louis and band leader Fred Waring. Members of the North Dakota, Michigan, and Pennsylvania delegations agreed to support one another’s recipients against those who disapproved of the $20,000 price tag for each medal. “This is only $60,000, but on principle, we have got to stop,” declared Millicent Fenwick of New Jersey. “The gold medal ought to be for people like George Washington, for whom it was first designed.” John Stanton of Ohio, however, voted with a resounding majority in a voice vote to pass the resolution. “[L’Amour] has established almost unachievably high standards in popular fiction,” Stanton noted. “[His] writings have brought pleasure to me and millions of other readers. I have long felt that his contributions to American life should be specifically noted.”

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