Remarks at a White House Barbecue for the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association

September 24, 1983

Don't let these few pieces of paper scare you. I once had a lesson in the importance of brevity in a speech. I had made a speech, and in the audience was the late Bill Alexander, a preacher from Oklahoma. And he took it upon himself to tell me the story of his first sermon. And I thought there was a connection.

He said that his first appearance in the pulpit, he'd worked for weeks on this first sermon, and then he was to preach at an evening service in a little country church in Oklahoma. He stood up in the pulpit that night and looked out at a church that was empty, except for one lone little fellow sitting down there in all the empty pews. So after the music, he went down and he said, ``Look, my friend, I'm just a young preacher getting started. You seem to be the only member of the congregation that showed up. What about it, should I go through with it?'' The fellow said, ``Well, I'm a little old cowpoke out here in Oklahoma. I don't know much about that sort of thing, but I do know this: If I loaded up a truckload of hay, took it out on the prairie, and only one cow showed up, I'd feed her.'' [Laughter]

And, Bill took that as a cue, got back up in the pulpit, and an hour-and-a-half later said, ``Amen.'' And he went back down, and he said, ``My friend, you seem to have stuck with me. And like I told you, I was a young preacher getting started, what did you think?'' ``Well,'' he says, ``like I told you, I don't know about that sort of thing, but I do know this: If I loaded up a truckload of hay, took it out on the prairie, and only one cow showed up, I sure wouldn't give her the whole load.'' [Laughter]

Secretary Baldrige, Ken Stemler, and all of you, welcome to the White House, and congratulations to all of you winners.

This has been a very special day. Watching you out there riding those bulls, I knew that I was among a group that understands what it's like to get a legislative program through Congress. [Laughter] Secretary Baldrige has proven himself a multitalented Cabinet member. Every time we come up to a real problem, he has the same solution: ``I'll rope 'em; you tie 'em.'' [Laughter] After watching all of you in action, I think Mac and I could put you all to work up here.

When I was about the age of some of you, I joined the horse cavalry. In those days, they still had horses in the Army, and I've enjoyed them ever since. It was heartwarming today to see the children out there from the Therapeutic Riding Association. I think we can all be happy that the National Therapeutic Riding Center provides these very special kids this kind of experience. And I know the results have proven that something I learned back in the cavalry is true, and that is, that there's nothing so good for the inside of a person as the outside of a horse.

The American cowboy remains a figure that is dear to the hearts of American people. The men and women of the Old West may not have been as slick as they were sometimes portrayed by Hollywood, but there was a certain integrity of character that shines through as we look back at them from the vantage place of history.

Now today, we have an author with us, an author who has made enormous contributions to Western folklore and our frontier heritage. Louis L'Amour's storytelling ability has made him one of the most widely read novelists in American history. One hundred and forty million copies of his books have been sold. He's written 87 books, many of which have been adapted for motion pictures and television. He's a man who, like the rodeo -- [different pronunciation:] -- rodeo -- [laughter] -- see, I've been back East too long -- brought the West to the people of the East and to people everywhere.

Former Senator Milton Young, Senators Andrews and Armstrong, along with Congressman Carlos Moorhead, have spearheaded an effort that I'm proud to participate in today. If Louis will step forward.

There you are, you sneaked up on me just like Bowdrie.\1\ (FOOTNOTE)

(FOOTNOTE) \1\Chick Bowdrie, Texas Ranger, the main character in Mr. L'Amour's collection of short stories entitled Bowdrie.

Mr. L'Amour. That's right.

The President. Well, I have the honor to present to you a very special Congressional Gold Medal. It is for your literary contributions, your contributions to the appreciation of the West. And you are the first novelist who has ever been honored by Congress with this medal.

Mr. L'Amour. Thank you, Mr. President.

The President. Well today, Louis L'Amour and those of you from the rodeo, you represent this great tradition of the American West, and I know America means a lot to you. I just want you to know that you mean much more to America. I wish you success and good health. Thanks for the fine exhibition today. And now, because of the business that I used to be in, I've saved the applause line for last: Let's eat. [Laughter and applause]

Note: The President spoke at 6:06 p.m. on the South Grounds of the White House, where he and Mrs. Reagan hosted a barbecue for members of the association. The association's rodeo was held earlier in the day at the Capital Centre in Landover, Md. At the barbecue, the President assisted in the presentation of awards to six rodeo winners, along with Ken Stemler, president of the association.