The Buford Pusser Museum was a random stop, but a memorable one. Growing up watching Walking Tall, I was a bit in awe of the man that the story was based on, although a bit skeptical that it was all true. According to what I learned at his museum he really did live the life that the movie recounts.
The museum and home is in Adamsville, Tennessee and my mom and I stopped by for a quick run through. We learned that Pusser was the sheriff of McNairy County Tennessee and that while serving, he literally took the county by storm.
Buford Pusser was born on December 12, 1937 and died quite mysteriously in a car crash on August 21, 1974. Both a basketball and football player during high school, Pusser joined the Marines at 18 years of age after graduation. His military service was cut short during United States Marine Corps Recruit Training, when it was discovered he had asthma. After receiving a medical discharge, Pusser moved to Chicago in 1957 to work at Union Bag Co. There he met and married his wife, Pauline, a young, attractive divorcee with two children, Diane and Mike.while living in Chicago. Later during their marriage the two would have one daughter Dwana.
The Pussers were married December 5, 1959. On weekends Buford Pusser was a wrestler around the Chicago area. He went by the tag, “Buford the Bull” which is fitting because he was certainly a big man. He was six feet six and weighed in at 250 lbs.
Pusser returned to his hometown of Adamsville with his wife in 1962 and began a term as the Adamsville Chief of Police. He served as Chief of Police until1964. The Chief of Police was a position, according to our guide that his father had before him. From 1964-1970 Pusser was the Sheriff of McNairy County and at age 26, the youngest sheriff in state history.
Pusser was a one man war against moon shining, gambling, and other vices on the Mississippi-Tennessee border. He took on the infamous Dixie Mafia and the State Line Mob. According to the website, “His story has directly inspired several books, songs, movies and at least one TV series. The Buford Pusser Museum has been established at the house where he was living at the time of his death in 1974.”
The lore is that he carried a big stick and our guide confirmed that he used a walking stick on occasion. She recounted one event where a man had been drinking and Pusser used the stick on him and they never had another call. Obviously Buford Pusser had no fear, the website stated, “During his time as Sheriff, Buford Pusser jailed over 7500 criminals, was stabbed seven times and shot eight times!”
Our guide said that one evening he was out on a call and his wife accompanied him and sadly as retaliation for his action against the State Line Mob, his car was ambushed. On August 12, 1967 his wife Pauline was killed in the accident and Pusser was shot in the face. Amazingly he survived the incident.
There is much more to the story, but head out to the museum to learn it for yourself or check out the movie or movies about his life! The museum website sums up his story, “He wrestled and defeated a live grizzly bear. He led a violent but successful campaign against moonshiners, gamblers, prostitutes and organized crime figures. His unusual methods of law enforcement earned him notoriety. He became a local legend for his heroics and at the same time gained him dangerous enemies.”
August 21, 1974: Buford Pusser died in an automobile accident. There are various explanations for the crash, but nothing is substantiated. The car is on display at the museum.
Country singer George Jones was one of his pall bearers and Actor Joe Don Baker & Elvis Presley (among others) attended his funeral. Today his daughter Dwana Pusser Garrison (and her husband) continues to keep his legacy alive.
While I am quite sure today he would be considered politically incorrect and never allowed to curtail crime the ways he did back then, he is a true hero that took on the bad guys and won. Maybe they got him in the end, but his is a story of a white knight and what makes it special is that he was a real man fighting for justice, not just a comic book legend.