ⓘ Buford Pusser


ⓘ Buford Pusser

Buford Hayse Pusser was the Sheriff of McNairy County, Tennessee, from 1964 to 1970 and Constable of Adamsville from 1970 to 1972. Pusser is known for his virtual one-man war on moonshining, prostitution, gambling, and other vices along the Mississippi–Tennessee state line. His efforts have inspired several books, songs, movies, and a TV series. He was also a wrestler known as "Buford the Bull" in the Mid-South.

The Buford Pusser Museum was established at the home he lived in at the time of his death in 1974. A Buford Pusser Festival is held each May in his hometown of Adamsville, Tennessee.


1. Life and career

Buford Pusser was born to Helen nee Harris and Carl Pusser in Finger, McNairy County, Tennessee. His father was the police chief of Adamsville, Tennessee. Buford Pusser was a high school football and basketball player and was 6 feet 6 inches 1.98 m tall. He joined the United States Marine Corps when he graduated from high school. His service ended during his United States Marine Corps Recruit Training, when he was given a medical discharge for asthma.

In 1957 he moved to Chicago, where he was a local wrestler known as "Buford The Bull". He married Pauline Mullins on December 5, 1959. Pusser returned home in 1962. He was Adamsvilles police chief and constable from 1962-64. After incumbent sheriff James Dickey was killed in a freak auto accident, Pusser was then elected sheriff of McNairy County, Tennessee, becoming the youngest sheriff in Tennessees history. Pusser promptly began trying to eliminate the Dixie Mafia and the State Line Mob.

Pusser survived several assassination attempts. On February 1, 1966, Louise Hathcock attempted to kill Pusser during an on-site investigation of a robbery complaint at The Shamrock. Hathcock fired on Pusser with a concealed.38 pistol. Pusser returned fire and killed Hathcock. On January 2, 1967, Pusser was shot three times by an unidentified gunman.

Already a local hero, Pussers "war" on the State Line Mob was brought to national prominence when his wife, Pauline, was killed on August 12, 1967, during an assassination ambush intended for Pusser. Pusser named Kirksey McCord Nix, Jr. as the contractor of his wifes killers, although neither Nix nor anyone else was ever charged with the crime. Pusser shot and killed an intoxicated Charles Russell Hamilton on December 25, 1968, after responding to a complaint that Hamilton had threatened his landlord with a gun.

Pusser was ineligible for re-election in 1970 due to the term limit then in effect. He was defeated in his bid for sheriff in 1972. Pusser blamed the loss to incumbent Sheriff Clifford Coleman in part on the controversy surrounding the making of the semi-biographical movie, Walking Tall. He was re-elected as constable of Adamsville by a majority of voters who wrote in his name on their ballots. He served as constable for two more years 1970–1972.


2. Murder of Pauline Pusser

According to Pusser, his phone rang before dawn on the morning of August 12, 1967, informing him of a disturbance on New Hope Road in McNairy County; Pusser responded and his wife Pauline rode along. Shortly after they passed the New Hope Methodist Church, a car came alongside theirs and the occupant opened fire, killing Pauline and leaving Pusser for dead. Doctors said he was struck on the left side of his jaw by at least two, or possibly three, rounds from a.30 caliber carbine. He spent 18 days in the hospital before returning home and would need several more surgeries to restore his appearance.

Despite vowing to bring his wifes murderers to justice Pusser was unable to bring Kirksey Nix or any of the accused to justice. Nix was sentenced to the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola for the Easter Saturday 1971 murder of New Orleans grocer Frank J. Corso. Nix was later involved in the 1987 murder-for-hire of Judge Vincent Sherry and his wife Margaret, in Biloxi, Mississippi. His co-conspirator, Biloxi Mayor Pete Halat, had stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars from Nix and blamed it on his law partner, Judge Sherry. Nix ordered a hit from prison and was later sentenced to isolation for the rest of his life. Nix has repeatedly refused to comment about Pussers claims that he was one of Pauline Pussers killers.


3. Death

Pusser died on August 21, 1974 from injuries sustained in a one-car automobile accident at 35°12′21″N 88°27′35.7″W. Earlier that day, he contracted with Bing Crosby Productions in Memphis to portray himself in the sequel to Walking Tall. That evening, returning home alone from the McNairy County Fair in his specially modified Corvette, Pusser struck an embankment at high speed that ejected him from the vehicle. The car caught fire and burned.

Local speculation as to the cause included rumors of sabotage to the steering mechanism and the tie-rods. The State Trooper who worked the accident, Paul Ervin, later became McNairy County sheriff. Ervin claimed that Pussers death was caused by drunk driving without a seat-belt. However, both Pussers mother Helen 1908–1987 and his daughter Dwana 1961–2018 believed he was murdered. Dwana, a passenger in another car, came upon the scene of the accident moments later. No autopsy of Pussers body was performed. As sheriff, Pusser was credited with surviving seven stabbings and eight shootings. Pussers memorial service was held at the Adamsville Church of Christ.


4. In music

Singer Eddie Bond wrote and recorded several songs honouring Pusser, beginning with "Buford Pusser" in 1968. Many of them were collected on a 1973 LP album, "Eddie Bond Sings The Legend Of Buford Pusser". Pusser himself was also a recording artist, with "It Happened In Tennessee", released in October 1973 on Stax Records subsidiary Respect. Southern rock band Drive-By Truckers told the story of Pussers battle with organized crime in the songs "The Boys from Alabama," "Cottonseed," and "The Buford Stick" from their 2004 album The Dirty South.


5. Pop culture

Pusser was the subject of three biographical books written by W.R. Morris: The Twelfth of August: The Story of Buford Pusser 1971, Buford: True Story of "Walking Tall" Sheriff Buford Pusser 1984 and The State Line Mob: A True Story of Murder and Intrigue 1990. In addition, Morris also created a pictorial history book of Buford called The Legacy of Buford Pusser: A Pictorial History of the "Walking Tall" Sheriff 1997. Pussers daughter Dwana released a book in 2009 entitled Walking On, which is also an account of his life.

The 1973 movie Walking Tall was based on Pussers story. It was a combination of fact and Hollywood revisionism. This has since become a well-known cult classic with two direct sequels of its own in 1975 and 1977, a TV movie in 1978 and a brief TV series in 1981.

A remake by the same name was released in 2004 as a somewhat less realistic and more mainstream film. Also dedicated to Pusser, the remake stars Dwayne Johnson and again takes liberties with the story, giving the action a more modern setting and premise. In this version, the main character is not referred to as Buford Pusser but as Chris Vaughn.

After the success of the 2004 film, Walking Tall: The Payback was released in 2007 direct-to-video. The name of the main character, who was portrayed by Kevin Sorbo, was changed to Nick Prescott, and the movie was set in the Dallas area. Later that year, on September 25, 2007, Sorbo returned in Walking Tall: Lone Justice.

In the songs "The Buford Stick" and "The Boys From Alabama," from their 2004 album The Dirty South, the Drive-By Truckers speculated on how criminals might have viewed Pusser.

Jimmy Buffett refers to an altercation between himself and Pusser in the songs "Presents To Send You" and "Semi-True Stories" from the albums "A1A" and "Beach House on the Moon," respectively. According to Buffet, he and Pusser were staying in the same Nashville motel when Buffet decided to go out for some food and bring it back to the motel. Buffet, who had been drinking, couldnt find his rental car and decided to climb up on a Cadillac for a better view. That Cadillac turned out to belong to Pusser, who wasnt at all pleased to find this stranger atop his car.

Pusser is mentioned in season 3, episode 8 of The Wire by Officer Jimmy McNulty in reference to a sheriff he plans to speak to.

Comedian Jeff Foxworthy, in his 1993 studio album," You Might He a Redneck if.”, referred to Buford Pusser in a joke about his wife’s childbirth retellings." You didn’t have more stitches than Buford Pusser”.