I have a birthday coming up on December 12. While I have managed to make it through 58 years without doing much of note, others have walked tall in life and legend.
Twenty years to the day before I was dragged screaming into the world in a back room of Dr. Croom's office, another baby boy was born near the little town of Finger, Tennessee. He would grow to be 6'6" and open eyes on the basketball court and football field in high school before moving on to bigger things.
The year I was born, 1957, he moved to Chicago and started a career in wrestling, where he went by the name of "Buford the Bull." As the story goes, he became fed up with the dishonesty of fight rigging in professional wrestling and returned to McNairy County, Tennessee in 1962. Following a stint as Adamsville's police chief and constable, he was elected county sheriff after the incumbent was killed in a freak auto accident.
It was as sheriff of McNairy County that Buford Pusser first came to national attention when he refused to be bought off or to back down from threats by criminal organizations he saw as corrupting the area through drugs, gambling, bootlegging, and the skin trade.
In his battles with "the Dixie Mafia" and "the State Line Mob" Pusser was stabbed seven times and shot eight, as well as surviving an assassination attempt that claimed the life of Pauline, his wife of seven years and the mother of his two young children.
W.R. Morris wrote The Twelfth of August: The Story of Buford Pusser. It was published in 1971 and quickly got the attention of Hollywood. Bing Crosby Productions came out with the movie, "Walking Tall", in 1973. Although the film was a combination of loosely based fact and typical Hollywood revisionism, Pusser's star was on the rise.
In 1970, after three consecutive terms, Buford had been prevented from running for reelection to sheriff of McNairy County by Tennessee term limits, so he started traveling to various speaking engagements around the country, including one in Malden. He contracted with Bing Crosby Productions to play himself in a sequel to "Walking Tall" on August 21, 1974.
Pusser died that day from injuries sustained in a one-car accident, when the new Corvette he was driving left the road and hit an embankment, throwing him clear then bursting into flames.
Some claimed that Buford Pusser was murdered by his old enemies, but an investigation showed that his blood alcohol content was almost double Tennessee's legal limit and that his Corvette was travelling over 100 miles per hour when he left the road. Perhaps he was celebrating the fact that he had signed with Bing Crosby Productions earlier that day and it was just a one-time lapse in judgement.
The fact remains that Buford Pusser, the man who walked tall and backed down all comers in his fight to bring law and order to a county in Tennessee that was crushed by crime, died because he broke the law. He died because he made the conscious decision to drive, and speed, after drinking. Keep that in mind as you celebrate this holiday season... and have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.