Deep in the heart of Tennessee was a man named Buford Pusser. He was a man of great strength and character, with a powerful sense of justice that guided him through his life. Buford was a lawman, a sheriff, and a hero to many people in his community. But his journey was not an easy one, and it was filled with danger, tragedy, and triumph.
Who Was Buford Pusser, and What Did He Do?
Buford Pusser was born in Finger, Tennessee, in 1937. As a young boy, he already showed signs of the strength and courage that would define his later life. He grew up in a tough environment, with poverty and violence all around him.
From a young age, Pusser showed remarkable physical prowess. He was an athlete in high school and even earned a scholarship to play football at a university. However, he was unable to attend college due to financial difficulties. Instead, he joined the United States Marine Corps, serving for two years before being honorably discharged.
After returning home, Pusser became a professional wrestler, using his size and strength to become a formidable opponent. He also worked as a truck driver and a deputy sheriff in McNairy County, Tennessee, where he lived with his wife and two children.
It was in the late 1950s that Buford first got involved in law enforcement. He started as a deputy sheriff in McNairy County, where he quickly made a name for himself as a tough but fair lawman. He was known for his physical strength and ability to stand up to even the most dangerous criminals.
But Buford’s time as sheriff of McNairy County truly made him a legend. Pusser was elected sheriff of McNairy County, Tennessee, when James Dickey, the previous sheriff, was killed in a car accident, becoming the state’s youngest sheriff ever.
Pusser immediately started attempting to dismantle the State Line Mob and the Dixie Mafia. He was determined to rid the area of illegal gambling, prostitution, and moonshining, and he was not afraid to use force if necessary.
Buford’s methods were controversial, but they were effective. He became known as the “walking tall” sheriff, and he inspired a sense of awe and respect among the people of his community. His physical presence alone was enough to deter many criminals, and he was not shy about using his fists or gun when necessary.
Buford Pusser is Punished
Tragically, Pusser’s life was marked by tragedy. In 1967, just three years after being elected sheriff, Pusser and his wife Pauline were ambushed at their home. In the ensuing shootout, Pauline was killed, and Buford was severely wounded. The incident only strengthened Pusser’s resolve, and he became even more determined to rid the county of corruption.
Despite his personal tragedy, Pusser’s reputation as a tough and uncompromising lawman grew, and he was the subject of several books and movies. In 1973, a movie based on his life, “Walking Tall,” was released and became an instant hit. Pusser even played himself in the film.
It was in 1973 that Buford’s life took a theatrical turn. He was involved in a shootout with a group of criminals operating an illegal gambling operation in McNairy County. Buford was hit multiple times but killed two men and wounded a third.
The Death of Buford Pusser
Pusser passed away on August 21, 1974, from wounds received in a one-car collision. He had signed a deal with Memphis’ Bing Crosby Productions earlier that day to play himself in Walking Tall.
Pusser was ejected from his specially modified Corvette that evening while driving home alone from the McNairy County Fair when it collided with an embankment at a high rate of speed. The car burned after catching fire.
Rumors of sabotage to the tie rods and steering mechanism were mentioned locally as possible causes. Paul Ervin, the state trooper who investigated the collision, became the sheriff of McNairy County. According to Ervin, Pusser’s death was brought on by intoxicated driving without wearing a seat belt.
A few minutes later, Dwana Pusser, Buford’s daughter, a passenger in another vehicle, arrived at the collision scene. The body of Pusser was not subjected to an autopsy. Pusser was credited for surviving eight shootings and seven stabbings while serving as sheriff. Adamsville Church of Christ hosted the memorial ceremony for Pusser.
Beginning with “Buford Pusser” in 1968, singer Eddie Bond created and released many songs in Pusser’s honor. Many were compiled on Eddie Bond Sings The Tale Of Buford Pusser, an LP album released in 1973.
Pusser was a recording artist, with his song “That Happened In Tennessee” appearing on the Respect imprint of Stax Records in October 1973. Drive-By Truckers, a southern rock band, included the songs “The Boys from Alabama,” “Cottonseed,” and “The Buford Stick” on their 2004 album The Dirty South, which detailed Pusser’s conflict with organized crime.
The compositions “The Buford Stick” and “The Boys From Alabama” made assumptions about how criminals could have perceived Pusser.
His name appears in the song “First Blood” by the American folk-indie band The Mountain Goats from their 2022 album Bleed Out.
Buford Pusser in Pop Culture
The Twelfth of August: The Tale of Buford Pusser, Buford: Real Account of “Walking Tall” Sheriff Buford Pusser, and The State Line Mob: A True Story of Murder and Intrigue were three biographies of Pusser authored by W.R. Morris (1990).
Morris also produced The Legacy of Buford Pusser: A Visual History of the “Walking Tall” Sheriff, a picture-filled history of Buford (1997). In 2009, Pusser’s daughter Dwana published a book titled Walking On that also serves as his biography.
From Pusser’s tale, the 1973 motion picture Walking Tall was adopted. Two sequels were made in 1975 and 1977, a TV movie was made in 1978, and a short-lived TV series was made in 1981.
In 2004, the same-named film underwent a remake with Dwayne Johnson playing the lead role as Chris Vaughn.
Following the 2004 movie’s commercial success, Walking Tall: The Revenge was released direct-to-video in 2007. The film was based in the Dallas region, and Kevin Sorbo played the lead role under the new identity of Nick Prescott.
On September 25 that year, Sorbo returned in Walking Tall: Lone Justice.
In the songs “Presents To Send You” and “Semi-True Tales,” Jimmy Buffett alludes to a fight he had with Pusser (from the albums A1A and Beach House on the Moon, respectively). Buffet claimed that he and Pusser were both lodged in the same motel in Nashville when Buffet decided to go out and get some food and bring it back to the room.
Buffet climbed up on a Cadillac for a better look after losing track of his rental car due to drinking. It turned out that Pusser owned that Cadillac, and he was not amused to discover this stranger perched atop his vehicle.
In The Wire’s eighth episode of season three, Officer Jimmy McNulty refers to Pusser as a sheriff with whom he intends to speak.
The comedian Jeff Foxworthy makes fun of Buford Pusser in his 1993 studio album; You May Be a Redneck if… when he says, “You didn’t have more stitches than Buford Pusser,” about his wife’s birth stories.
The Legacy of Buford Pusser
Buford’s death was a tragedy, but his legacy lived on. He had become a symbol of strength and courage to many people, and his story inspired countless others to fight for justice and stand up to the forces of evil in their communities.
Today, Buford Pusser is remembered as a true American hero. His life was cut short, but his impact on his community and the country was immeasurable. His story has been immortalized in books, movies, and television shows, and his name is still revered by those who knew him and those who have heard of his legend.
But what about Buford Pusser made him such an iconic figure? Perhaps his unwavering commitment to justice or his physical prowess made him a force to be reckoned with. Or maybe it was his tragic end, which only served to cement his status as a hero in the minds of those who knew him.
Whatever it was, there is no denying the impact that Buford Pusser had on the world around him. He was a man of great strength and character, and his legacy lives on to this day. He is a reminder that even in the face of great danger and adversity, some are willing to stand up and fight for what is right.
Buford Pusser’s story is powerful and serves as a testament to the power of determination, bravery, and a strong sense of justice. Though he died young, his impact will be felt for generations. We can all learn something from his example and strive to stand up for what is right, no matter the cost.
RIP, Buford Pusser.
Next, read about the absolutely terrifying case of The Nazi Massacre in France. Or if you’re interested in true legends, try the Unbelievable Story of the Green Children of Woolpit.
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