Guest Author - Vance R. Rowe
Buford Hayse Pusser was the sheriff of McNairy County, Tennessee from 1964 to 1970. Term limits then, prevented him from running for sheriff again in 1970. In 1974, he was killed in a car accident. It is unclear whether someone tampered with his new Corvette or if crashed due to driving at high speeds. Pusser’s car careened off of the road and slammed into an embankment. His car became engulfed with flames and Buford was ejected from the vehicle, but died at the scene, after trying to speak to his daughter, Dwana. They were all at the county fair at the time and Buford left by himself as his daughter wanted to stay at the fair for a little while and rode home with her friends.
On their way home, they happened upon the accident scene, saw the car and Dwana saw Buford lying by the road and screamed for her friend to stop the car. Dwana Pusser said that she just knew her father was dead when she saw the horrific accident. She ran to her father’s side and he attempted to say something to her and she believed that he was saying her name. It was August 21, 1974. Joe Don Baker, who played Pusser in the first movie, attended Pusser’s funeral, as did Elvis Presley and other celebrities.
Buford Pusser became the sheriff of McNairy County and waged a one-man war on moonshiners, gambling and prostitution. Pusser was a giant of a man too, standing at 6’6” tall and weighing well over 200 pounds. Before moving back to his home state of Tennessee, Buford had joined the Marines but was medically discharged due to having asthma. Pusser then moved to Chicago and took a job in a factory. He also wrestled professionally for extra money. ”Buford the Bull” was his ring name. His claim to fame in the wrestling business was that he wrestled a bear and won. Chicago is also where he met his wife. When Buford, his wife, and two children moved to Tennessee, his father was the police chief in Adamsville, Tennessee. He wanted to retire and asked Buford to take the job. He did and then went on to become constable and eventually, at the young age of 26, Buford Pusser was elected sheriff of McNairy County. His weapon of choice was a big oak club. He loved to smash things with it. Some have said he loved it too much.
He became an enemy of a criminal organization called The State Line Mob. This criminal organization ran gambling, moonshine, and prostitution, in Tennessee and across the state line, in Mississippi. He made so much of an enemy of the State Line Mob that there were several attempts made on his life and his wife would become a devastating casualty of the war. Buford was called, very early in the morning, to check for a possible disturbance, in a town called New Hope. His wife wanted to go with him and as they were on their way, another car with about four or five men, pulled up close to the Pussers and began sending a hail of gunfire into their car. His wife was killed and most of Buford’s lower jaw was shot off. It took several extensive surgeries to fix the lower part of his face.
Buford Pusser was a technical advisor on the first movie entitled, Walking Tall. The movie was a semi-biographical story of his life with, as I mentioned previously, Joe Don Baker as the big club wielding sheriff and Bo Svenson would take over the role as Pusser in the two subsequent sequels, Walking Tall Part 2 and Walking Tall Final Chapter. Buford was going to play himself in the first sequel to the movie, but he was killed shortly before he was to start work.
His legacy still goes on though. His house is a museum and gives daily tours. There have been times that his daughter Dwana has showed up at the museum. Movies were made about him, books have been written about him, a short lived television series was based on his life, and songs have been written about the sheriff.
During his career in law enforcement, Buford Pusser was shot 8 times and stabbed at least 7 times and survived every one of them.