Sheriff Buford Hayse Pusser

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Sheriff Buford Hayse Pusser

Also Known As: "Walking Tall"
Birthplace: Finger, McNairy County, Tennessee, United States
Death: August 21, 1974 (36)
Adamsville, McNairy County, Tennessee, United States (Car Accident)
Place of Burial: Adamsville, McNairy County, Tennessee, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Private and Private
Husband of Pauline Pusser
Father of Private

Occupation: Sheriff
Managed by: Linda (Carr) Buchholz, Kit # FW8...
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

    • Private
    • Private
    • Private
    • Private

About Sheriff Buford Hayse Pusser

Immortalized by three screen portrayals of his career, Walking Tall (1973), Walking Tall II (1976), and Walking Tall III: The Final Chapter (1977), McNairy County Sheriff Buford Pusser earned a reputation as a hard-nosed, no nonsense law officer who settled disputes with a large homemade bat. By age thirty-two he had been shot eight times, stabbed seven, and run over by felons in a car. On August 12, 1967, Pusser witnessed the violent death of his wife in an ambush that was meant for him. Permanently disfigured, Pusser underwent numerous reconstructive surgeries to mend his battered face and crushed jaw.

Born December 12, 1937, in Adamsville, Pusser moved to Oklahoma during his junior year in high school. From there he joined the U.S. Marines but was discharged due to chronic asthma. Disheartened, he returned to Adamsville in 1958 and traveled the semiprofessional wrestling circuit in the Southeast until his marriage to Pauline Mullins in 1959.

The couple moved to Chicago, where he found employment at the Union Paper Bag Company as a die cutter and their child, Dwana Aitoya Pusser, was born. Shortly thereafter, the Pussers returned to McNairy County. In September 1962 Pusser ran for constable and upset the incumbent by over one hundred votes. Taking his job seriously, he made a crusade out of crushing the local illegal whiskey trade.

The McNairy County sheriff, James Dickey, was in cahoots with the moonshine ring which operated along the state lines of Tennessee and Mississippi. Incensed by the collusion of local authorities in supporting criminal activity, Pusser decided to run against Dickey for sheriff, choosing to run as a Republican in a staunchly Democratic county. His election was assured when Dickey died in an automobile accident.

In November 1964 he suffered his first assault by the members of the moonshine ring. Ambushed by assailants who stabbed him seven times and left him to die, Pusser survived and made war on the ring with a vengeance. In his first year as sheriff he raided forty-two stills and arrested seventy-five moonshiners. In subsequent years he expanded his attempts to clean up the crime-ridden state line area by prosecuting prostitution rings and illegal gambling houses.

In 1969 the Tennessee General Assembly recognized Pusser for his accomplishments and made him an honorary sergeant of arms. His career as sheriff ended in 1970, but his fame was just beginning. He signed a contract with Bing Crosby productions in 1972 to film his life story. Walking Tall became a box-office smash, but Pusser died in a car wreck in 1974. His death and the success of the first story spawned two sequels, neither of which was as successful as the first.

Buford Hayse Pusser (December 12, 1937 – August 21, 1974) 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,[1] movies, and a TV series. He was also a wrestler known as "Buford the Bull" in the Mid-South.

The Buford Pusser Museum[2] 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.

Buford Pusser was born to Helen (née 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.[3]

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 Adamsville's 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 Tennessee's history. Pusser promptly began trying to eliminate the Dixie Mafia and the State Line Mob.[citation needed]

Pusser survived several assassination attempts.[4] 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.[5]

Already a local hero, Pusser's "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 wife's 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.[6]

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).

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.[citation needed]

Despite vowing to bring his wife's 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 Pusser's claims that he was one of Pauline Pusser's killers.

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.[7] 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.[7]

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 Pusser's death was caused by drunk driving without a seat-belt. However, both Pusser's 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 Pusser's body was performed. As sheriff, Pusser was credited with surviving seven stabbings and eight shootings. Pusser's memorial service was held at the Adamsville Church of Christ.

Singer Eddie Bond wrote and recorded several songs honouring Pusser, beginning with "Buford Pusser" in 1968.[8] Many of them were collected on a 1973 LP album, "Eddie Bond Sings The Legend Of Buford Pusser".[9] Pusser himself was also a recording artist, with "It Happened In Tennessee", released in October 1973 on Stax Records subsidiary Respect.[10] Southern rock band Drive-By Truckers told the story of Pusser's battle with organized crime in the songs "The Boys from Alabama," "Cottonseed," and "The Buford Stick" from their 2004 album The Dirty South.

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). Pusser's daughter Dwana released a book in 2009 entitled Walking On, which is also an account of his life.[11]

The 1973 movie Walking Tall was based on Pusser's 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.[11]

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.[11]

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.[11]

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).[12] 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, couldn't 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 wasn't at all pleased to find this stranger atop his car.[13]

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.


  • "Records". Drive-By Truckers. Retrieved November 16, 2010.
  • "Buford Pusser Home & Museum". December 25, 1968. Retrieved November 16, 2010.
  • "How Tall Did Buford Pusser Really Walk". People Magazine. Retrieved August 28, 2014.
  • "Buford Pusser, Sheriff Depicted In 'Walking Tall' Film, Is Dead". The New York Times. August 22, 1974. p. 36. Retrieved April 1, 2019. There were at least seven attempts on Mr. Pusser's life, including one in 1967 when he and his wife Pauline were driving along a country road near the town of New Hope. Their car was sprayed with 30‐caliber bullets, and Mrs. Pusser was killed.
  • Brewer, Wiley. "Pusser Shot After Stopping Speeding Auto". Daily Corinthian, January 3, 1967; retrieved January 11, 2008.
  • Casey, James. "Sheriff Slays Killer of Four In McNairy". The Jackson Sun; retrieved January 11, 2008.
  • "Buford Pusser Died Here, Adamsville, Tennessee". Retrieved October 29, 2015.
  • "Eddie Bond Discography - USA". 45cat. Retrieved October 31, 2018.
  • "Eddie Bond - Sings The Legend Of Buford Pusser (Vinyl, US, 1973)". Discogs. Retrieved October 31, 2018.
  • "Buford Pusser - It Happened In Tennessee Pt. 1".
  • Buford Pusser on IMDb [unreliable source?]
  • Ghianni, Tim (May 3, 2019). "King of the Road was like Nashville's own Vegas, complete with Miller's 'Rat Pack'". Nashville Ledger. 43 (18). Street Level. Retrieved June 15, 2019.
  • Hunter, Al (July 10, 2014). "Jimmy Buffett: Walking Tall". The Weekly View. Bumps in the Night. Retrieved June 15, 2019.
  • Reference: Tennessee Encyclopedia
  • Reference: Wikipedia

Folk Figure. He was the Sheriff of McNairy County, Tennessee, and subject of the movie "Walking Tall" (1973), in which his unusual methods of law enforcement brought him popular renown. Born in McNairy County, Tennessee, his father was the Adamsville, Tennessee Chief of Police. In 1956, he graduated from Adamsville High School, where he excelled on the school's football and basketball varsity teams. Shortly after graduating from high school, he enlisted into the United States Marine Corps, and was later discharged due to asthma. In 1962, his father retired as Adamsville Chief of Police due to health problems, and Buford was hired as constable for the Adamsville Police. Two years later, he was elected Sheriff of McNairy County. Discovering that organized crime was running prostitution, illegal alcohol and corruption throughout the county, he determined to eliminate it. This resulted in several attempts on his life, and he reacted by enacting more strict measures than the men sent against him. He was shot eight times, knifed seven times, and once fought off six men trying to kill him, sending three to the hospital and jailing the other three. In 1965, he destroyed 87 whiskey stills alone. On August 12, 1967, he and his wife, Pauline, were ambushed while driving on the local New Hope Road; Pauline was killed, and Buford had his jaw shot off; the assailants were never discovered. Buford Pusser retired as Sheriff in 1970, and he became famous with the movie "Walking Tall" (1973), which highlighted his efforts to eliminate crime and corruption in the county. On August 21, 1974, he attended the McNairy County Fair, and while returning home to Adamsville, his car suddenly shot off the road where it crashed and burned, killing him instantly. Since his death, several additional movies have been made, highlighting Pusser's career, including "Walking Tall, Part 2" (1975), "Walking Tall, The Final Chapter" (1977), and "Walking Tall" (1981). In 2000, Highway 64 was named the Buford Pusser Highway, in his honor. A memorial was erected to him on the spot where he had his fatal accident.

Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson

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Sheriff Buford Hayse Pusser's Timeline

December 12, 1937
Finger, McNairy County, Tennessee, United States
August 21, 1974
Age 36
Adamsville, McNairy County, Tennessee, United States
Adamsville Cemetery, Adamsville, McNairy County, Tennessee, United States