Buford Pusser was the sheriff of McNairy County, Tennessee, in the late 60s and is known in history as one of the bravest American real life heroes of all time. He singlehandedly waged war against drug trafficking, smuggling, moonshining and prostitution around the Mississippi-Tennessee state line. Buford was born to a sheriff father in McNairy County and was an avid sportsperson during his high school years. Owing to his tall built and physical strength, he also ended up indulging in professional wrestling for some time in the late 50s before he returned home and settled down with his family. There he got a job in the police department of Adamsville and worked there for a few years in the early 60s. He was appointed the sheriff of McNairy County in 1964 and became the youngest man ever to be honoured with the position. When he took over the position, the county was suffering with anti-social elements and was known as one of the most dangerous places to live in the entire state. He went out on a spree to clean his county out. Several assassination attempts were made on him, one of which took the life of his wife. Buford died in August 1974 in a road accident.
Childhood & Early Life
Buford Pusser was born on December 12, 1937 in Finger, McNairy County, Tennessee to a middle class family of father Carl Pusser and mother Helen. His father worked in the local police department as the Police Chief of Adamsville, Tennessee. Buford grew up as a strong and healthy kid with a great height and that drove him more into athletics. While in school, he played sports such as football and basketball and by the time he was in high school, he grew 6’6 tall.
Buford wanted to join the defence after he graduated high school. He immediately started training to be in corps and built a strong body. But his dreams of being in the army came to a bad end when it was discovered that he suffered from asthma. That automatically disqualified him from further continuing his service with the corps.
In 1957, in order to look for better career opportunities, Buford came to Chicago where he aimed to become a part of the local wrestling scene. His tall frame and strong built had him becoming a professional wrestler with the ring name ‘Buford the Bull’. During his stint as a wrestler, he met Pauline and the couple got married in 1959. After wrestling for three more years in Chicago he returned back to his hometown with his wife and started working in Adamsville police department as a constable.
The sheriff of McNairy County James Dickey had just died in a freaky car accident and the post was empty. Buford fought the election in 1964 for the seat of the sheriff and won the elections with a majority. This led to him becoming the youngest sheriff of the county in its history.
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Since his arrival on the scene, the crime underbelly of the county which was one of the most notorious ones in the entire country felt threatened. Standing at six and a half feet tall, Buford was a man with rock solid intentions and no fear in his eyes. He attacked all the criminals, petty or big, of the county and little by little, cleaned all the streets.
His biggest targets were Dixie Mafia and State Line mob. But he did not know by then how dangerous were the people that he had threatened to destroy. Both the gangs dealt in moonshine and did execute their smugglings between state line of Tennessee and Mississippi. Apart from making thousands of dollars, the gangs were creating an atmosphere of fear among the locals. Buford attacked both the gangs and in a very short period of time, he managed to ruin most of their businesses.
Several assassination attempts were made on Buford but he remained unafraid and kept doing his work with honesty and bravery. Before the year 1967 arrived, he had been shot three times in separate confrontations and had killed several hit-men who were hired by the mob to kill him. Due to his fierceness and bravery, he was considered a local hero. But the morning of August 12, 1967 turned out to be very tragic for him and everything changed afterwards.
On that August morning, Buford got an anonymous call that a disturbance was taking place a few meters away from his house. Buford got ready to leave immediately when his wife asked to accompany him. Buford agreed and as they drove through the county towards the location, a car stopped right beside them. Before Buford knew it, bullets started raining in on their car. His wife got hit by the bullets and died on the spot. Buford on the other hand was injured and suffered two deep bullet-wounds in his jaw.
It took 18 days for Buford to recover from the injuries but he came through and promised himself that he would avenge his wife. More than that, there was this looming guilt that his wife suffered death due to his actions and that the hitmen were probably trying to kill him instead of his wife.
Just as he came out of the hospital, he named all the four hitters that shot him and his wife that day. The biggest fish of them all was Kirskey McCord Jr., the leader of the Dixie Gang. He was also named by Buford as the person who was the mastermind behind the attack and he had threatened Buford several times with death. Although Kirskey was too rich and powerful a man to bring down, Buford’s wrath was faced by other small fishes who were killed one by one by Buford.
Three other hitmen who attacked Buford and his wife that day were killed over the next few years without Buford being convicted. Buford was said to be behind those assassinations but enough proofs were never found against him to prove so. Buford’s term as the sheriff came to an end in 1970 due to the term limit that was in effect back then. He was further defeated in his bid for the post of sheriff for the year 1972. He went back to his job as a constable in 1970 and served for two more years, until 1972.
Death & Legacy
Buford Pusser passed away on August 2, 1974 in a car accident. He was driving at high speed when his car touched an embankment on the side and caught fire immediately. He suffered severe burns and injuries, causing his death. His daughter and mother however believe that his death was planned by his enemies. His memorial service was held at Adamsville Church of Christ.
His death has been a matter of controversy though. It took place right on the day when he had signed a contact with some filmmakers for playing himself in the sequel of the film ‘Walking Tall’. Furthermore, no autopsy was performed on his body.
Buford is known as a quintessential American hero, a fearless man who fought his entire life to cleanse his country and loved his family more than anything else. Several biographical books have been written on him.
In 1973, the film ‘Walking Tall’ came out which mixed the facts of Buford’s life with some fiction and turned out to be a major hit at the box office. Several songs have been written in praises of Buford as well.