Pusser was a true American hero. He stood his ground and held true to
his ideals in the face of bribes, threats, violent physical attacks, and
tragedy. He left his mark on southwestern
he was fourteen years old, the family moved to
joined the Marines after graduating from high school, and was shipped to
at home in Adamsville, Buford soon became restless and moved to
homesick, and wanting to raise his family away from the big city, Buford
and Pauline moved back to Adamsville in 1961. Buford’s father Carl was
the Chief of Police by then, and Buford went to work as an officer in
the police department, then was appointed Chief when his father retired.
1964 Buford was elected Sheriff of McNairy County, Tennessee. At that
time crime and corruption were running rampant in the rural county.
Buford and his deputies quickly went to work busting moonshine stills,
destroying as many as 87 illegal stills during his first year in office.
In retaliation, in November of that year Buford was attacked by thugs
hired by the moonshiners, who stabbed him seven times and left him for
recovered from his wounds and went right back into battle, continuing to
wage war on the illegal whiskey makers, as well as the criminals who did
business along the Tennessee-Mississippi state line in southern McNairy
County, where prostitution, gambling, and other vices were running
State Line Mob, as this group of hoodlums were known, first offered the
new Sheriff $1,000 a month to look the other way. That was a huge sum of
money in those days, but Buford Pusser could not be bought. Nor could he
be deterred with threats toward himself or his family.
Pusser’s law enforcement methods would probably be frowned upon in
today’s politically correct society, but not in his day and age. Early
on, he did not carry a gun, depending on his size to get the job done.
This was probably the period when the legend of the big stick was born.
Buford never carried a club on a regular basis, but he often grabbed a
fence post to smash whiskey stills and illegal saloons, and on at least
one occasion he did use a club to administer a little “frontier
justice.” Following the
stabbing that almost killed him, Buford changed his mind about going
armed, and began to carry a .41 magnum Smith and Wesson revolver.
was not to be the last physical attack on the hard driving sheriff. Over
the years he was shot eight times, stabbed seven times, struck by a car,
and killed two people in the course of his duties.
February 1, 1966, the sheriff received a complaint that a couple had
been robbed while staying at the Shamrock Motel, on the state line. The
motel included a restaurant, motel, and bar, where hookers trolled for
customers. The suspect was the motel’s owner, Louise Hathcock, who had
been acquitted of killing her husband the year before.
Hathcock was no stranger to Sheriff Pusser. She habitually carried a
ball peen hammer in her apron pocket, and a teenaged Buford had watched
her beat a sailor to death with it when he and his buddies were out
carousing at the Shamrock.
already had two open warrants for Hathcock, for theft and illegal
possession of whiskey, and was accompanied by Deputies Jim Moffett and
Peatie Plunk when he went to arrest Hathcock. Just before they reached
the motel, Deputy Plunk suggested that Buford strap on his gun, which
was in the car’s glove box. Buford did so, an act that would save his
life. When they arrived at the Shamrock, Hathcock pulled a .38 revolver
on the lawmen, and Buford drew his own weapon and shot her. A grand jury
ruled the killing justifiable, but it made Hathcock’s outlaw
associates along the state line hate the sheriff even more.
the early morning of August 12, 1967, Sheriff Pusser received a call at
home. The anonymous caller reported that there was a drunken fight going
on near the state line. Buford’s wife, Pauline, decided to ride along
with him when he went to investigate. As they were driving down
floored the accelerator on his powerful car and sped away from the
ambush, then pulled to the side of the road to check on his injured
wife. As he was frantically trying to stop the bleeding from her
terrible wound, the Cadillac roared up again and the killers opened fire
again. Buford was shot at least once in the face, tearing away most of
his lower jaw, and Pauline was hit again. Believing their bloody work
was done, the gunmen fled the scene.
was not able to attend his wife’s funeral, he was still hospitalized
recovering from his wounds, with an armed deputy stationed at the door
of his hospital room in case the assassins returned to finish the job.
Buford would require extensive surgery to rebuild his shattered face,
and was hospitalized for nearly three weeks following the shooting.
counted eleven bullet holes in Buford’s car, and picked up fourteen
spent cartridge cases at the ambush site. The killers of Pauline Pusser
were never identified, though there was no doubt that they were hired by
the State Line Mob.
had traveled a long and hard road from his early days as a lawman, when
he did not carry a gun. Following the ambush, he carried a .357 magnum
revolver and an M-16 rifle.
than two years after the shooting at the Shamrock Motel, Buford was
forced to kill again in the line of duty. Charles Russell Hamilton was a
bad man by any account. He had already killed his mother, his wife, and
two different men, but managed to avoid prison every time. On Christmas
Day, 1968, a relative of
of Buford’s war on crime spread far beyond the borders of
all of this, Buford Pusser remained the same good ol’ boy he always
was, and continued to serve the people of
August 21, 1974, Buford attended a press conference in
the years there was a lot of speculation as to whether Buford’s death
was more than an accident. Some people believed that his enemies had
tampered with the car, but investigators could find no evidence of this.
the famous lawman’s home in Adamsville is the Buford Pusser Home and
Museum, and has been preserved as it was when Buford lived there. The
home’s rooms are filled with the original furniture the Pusser family
used, and mementoes of Buford’s life. His daughter Dwana is active
with the museum, and she and other guides are happy to give visitors a
tour and share their memories of Buford’s triumphs and tragedies.
bedroom looks like its resident has just gone off to another day at work
and will be home soon. His clothes hang in the closet, his boots stand
at the foot of the bed, and the bureau and nightstand hold his mail and
in the lower level of the home include weapons carried by Buford and the
criminals he arrested, displays on his career, and even a moonshine
still like the
ones Buford hunted down and destroyed. A small gift shop has souvenirs
and books about Buford’s adventures. The museum is located at
to McNairy County can visit Buford and Pauline’s graves, see a marker
at the site of the accident that took Buford’s life, and tour the
Buford Pusser Home and Museum to learn more about the brave and
relentless man who brought law and order to the area and never backed
down, no matter how terrible a price he had to pay. Buford Pusser is
still a hero, a man who walked tall.