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.