The museum opened in May of 1988. There were over 6,000 people in attendance (we had less than 2,000 in our town.) So we saw that people would come from far and wide for Buford! Therefore, we have had a Sheriff Buford Pusser Festival every May since then. This year will mark our 29th festival.
Buford had moved to Chicago late in the summer of 1957, but he began to feel a ‘tug at his heart’ to return to the slower pace of life of McNairy County. So in 1961, Buford packed up his family, which had grown to include a new baby girl, Dwana, and move back to Adamsville. His father Carl had been Adamsville's police chief.
Due to medical problems Carl planned to retire and he encouraged Buford to apply for his position. After a vote from the city board, Buford was made police chief and thus began his law enforcement career.
On August 12th, 1967, Buford received a call at 4:30a.m. about a disturbance at the State Line. His wife Pauline insisted on accompanying him that morning, but when they reached the New Hope Road, a black car pulled out behind them at the New Hope Church. Suddenly, the car was beside them and a hail of bullets smashed into the side window. The shots missed Buford, but had struck Pauline in the head.
Trying to escape, Buford drove about two miles down the road before he stopped. Thinking that he had lost the assailants, he began to tend to his wife, but the car reappeared and began firing again. Pauline was struck in the head for a second time, and Buford had his jaw shot off. With the initial shots, Buford sank to the floorboard, a move that probably saved his life.
By the time Buford left his Sheriff’s post in 1970, his career was skyrocketing with WALKING TALL, WALKING TALL: PART II, and WALKING TALL : THE FINAL CHAPTER. A television documentary called “THE GREAT AMERICAN HERO” and a television series were yet to come. Thirty years after Buford’s death, “Walking Tall” was remade staring the popular actor and wrestler “The Rock.”
In 1966, Buford was named Outstanding Young Man by the local Jaycees. In 1970, he was named one of Tennessee’s Outstanding three young men.
Early in the evening of August 20th, 1974, Buford attended a press conference in Memphis. The announcement was made that he would play himself in a movie “Buford”. It was never to be. He attended the McNairy County Fair and Livestock Show in Selmer later that evening and signed autographs. He chatted with his daughter, Dwana, and later passed her and her friends on the way home. On a long stretch of road between Selmer and Adamsville his corvette veered off the road and crashed into an embankment where it burst into flames. Among the first to the scene was his daughter, but it was too late. The man who had accomplished so much in law enforcement was dead.
From 1964 to 1974, a string of violent events had cast him into the world’s spotlight. Then, as if by a stroke of fate, it was over. His memory lingers with those who knew him best. They remember his shyness, politeness, and the strength and vigor with which he administered the law.
He was a true American Hero.