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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Selmer, TN

Selmer is a town in McNairy County, Tennessee, United States, in the southwestern part of the state. The population was 4,541 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of McNairy County. It is named after Selma, Alabama.

The notable sheriff, Buford Pusser, served as the sheriff of McNairy County from 1964 to 1970.

Selmer became a focus of national news media in late March 2006. A local minister, Matthew Brian Winkler, was shot to death by his wife Mary Carol Winkler at their Selmer home. The investigation was headed by Investigator Roger Rickman and Winkler was convicted in 2007 of voluntary manslaughter.

In 2007, a drag racing car lost control during a burnout during a parade in Selmer. Six people were killed and 20 were injured.


County seat

In 1890, the county seat of McNairy County was moved from Purdy to Selmer.

Buford Pusser

The notable sheriff, Buford Pusser, served as the sheriff of McNairy County from 1964to 1970, and since Selmer is the county seat, the location of the courthouse and the jail, this was his base of operations. His story has been made famous in the Walking Tall series of movies starring Joe Don Baker and Bo Svenson. The movies were filmed in nearby Henderson, Tennessee.


Legendary Sheriff of McNairy

County from 1964-1970

Born on December 12, 1937, between Finger and Leapwood, Tennessee, Buford Hayse Pusser met each challenge of life head on and established himself as a man among men with a reputation that spread around the world. The second son and third child of Carl and Helen Pusser lived the first fourteen years of his life on a farm in rural northwest McNairy County. Buford attended grade school at Leapwood until his family moved to Adamsville, Tennessee when he was fourteen years old. While attending Adamsville High school he demonstrated his physical skills on the football field and in the gymnasium. Those who knew Buford remember his politeness and neatness.

Buford entered the service and was given a medical discharge because of his asthma. He then moved to Chicago where his physical strength and courage served him well in the wrestling ring. His wrestling prowess earned him the moniker "Buford The Bull" in the ring. It was during this time in Chicago that he met and married Pauline Mullins who was from West Virginia.

Chicago was a long way from McNairy County and in early 1961 Buford and his family moved to Adamsville where he took his first job as a law enforcement officer working with his father Carl. After serving three years as Adamsville’s Chief of Police, Buford entered the race for Sheriff of McNairy County in 1964 and was elected. This was the beginning of a road that would lead to tragedy and also make him a famous law officer. The illegal operations on the Tennessee-Mississippi state line which included gambling, prostitution and moonshine whisky had generated a reputation that invoked fear and caused others to take a hands-off approach when it came to making arrests and cleaning the state line of these lawbreakers. Buford took this in stride as the Sheriff of McNairy County and drew on his physical strength and courage. He began to clean up the State Line’s illegal operations. Because of his many encounters with violence, his reputation grew and spread throughout the country when the production of three "Walking Tall" movies and a television series were produced about the "Legend of Buford Pusser", an easy going, but take-no-lip Sheriff who did his job in spite of the threats and mean-spirited law-breakers he came in contact with. Buford’s reputation was one, which in the weekly newspaper reports, showed him to be a very present threat to anyone who broke the law in McNairy County. The paper ran stories very regularly showing Buford hauling in moonshine stills and the "Tennessee White Lightening" whiskey they produced, along with the whiskey makers who resided in the county jail. Buford’s reputation as depicted by the movies and TV show were embellished somewhat from reality, but most people who knew Buford will tell you that he was a powerful deterrent to crime and mayhem in McNairy County.

Buford is indeed a legend in law enforcement, but his many encounters with violence caused him and his family many heartaches. On August 12, 1967, on his way to the State Line, traveling New Hope Road in McNairy County, Buford and his wife Pauline, were ambushed near New Hope Church, leaving Pauline dead and Buford seriously wounded. Much of his physical endurance and idealism were compromised by this tragedy and Buford began touring the country promoting the movies and making guest appearances at special functions. His reputation as a person who cared grew through the many functions he supported dealing with children and other charitable organizations.

On August 21, 1974, Buford returned from a press conference in Memphis and stopped by the McNairy County Fair and Livestock Show before going home. On his way home from the fair, approximately six miles on Highway 64 West of his home in Adamsville, Buford’s Corvette left the highway and smashed into an embankment, throwing him from the car and leaving him dead. There are many tales and distortions of Buford’s life and rein as Sheriff, but one thing is perfectly clear... Buford Pusser is a Legend, his reputation as a "Law Enforcement Officer who took his job seriously" puts him in the company of many other American Law Legends from yesteryear.

Buford’s family includes his parents, Carl and Helen, and his brother John Howard Pusser who are all now deceased, a sister Gailya Pusser Davis and her family who lives in Collierville. Buford and Pauline had a daughter, Dwana Pusser Garrison who, with her husband, James Garrison, are the owners of Pusser’s Restaurant. Jamie and Dwana have three daughters, Tara, Atoyia, and Madison.

Sister shares special memories

by Janet Rail

"Buford and I were always very close," stated Gailya Pusser Davis, the big sister of Buford and the middle child of Carl and Helen Pusser.

The Pusser family started from humble beginnings around the Finger-Leapwood area. All three children were born at home. "I believe by a Dr. Smith," stated Davis. The house in which we were all born is now gone, but the home where we spent many years, until moving to Adamsville, is still standing.

"I was trying to show a friend recently how far I had to walk to school and was trying to find the spot where the house was and to my amazement it was still standing. I just stood there and cried when I saw the house, it just brought back so many memories," continued Davis.

The Pussers had three children, John Howard Pusser, born in July of 1929, Gailya Pusser born December 2, 1933, and Buford Hayse Pusser born on December 12, 1937.

Buford Pusser weighed nine pounds and six ounces at birth. According to Galya, Buford was always mama’s baby. In fact, I remember our father saying, you have more than one child you know. I know Buford was special to mother.

At Finger, John and I used to walk two to three miles to catch a bus to school in Finger every day. Buford was too young to go to school at the time.

Davis remembers her mother being taken into Henderson by her uncle, a school teacher, Loyd Harris. "Mother would leave on Monday and stay in Henderson until Friday," stated Davis. Helen Pusser worked in a factory in Henderson at the time and the children would stay at home with their father. Buford was so young he used to stay with mama and papa (Bliss and Molly Harris), our grandparents.

Our father logged in the winter and farmed in the summer months. When Buford was old enough we would walk three to four miles to school in the Leapwood area. "We had a lot of fun on the walk to and from school so it didn’t seem so long," continued Davis.

We later moved to Adamsville and my mother began to work in a factory there. Buford and I attended school in Adamsville and were finally able to ride a bus to school. "I guess we didn’t realize that we were having hard times, but we were," Davis added.

Buford worked at Charlie Duren’s store and played football. I left home in 1952 after graduating and have been in the Memphis area ever since.

I attended business college for a while and then went to work in various jobs. I lived in a boarding home and eventually went to work for Mid-South Title Company and worked there for about twelve years until I married William H. Davis.

We moved around up north for a while on construction jobs until we returned home to Collierville around thirty years ago when they started Davis Grading Company in Memphis.

Buford used to come for visits and we always had a good time. One time he and a friend Billy Joe Christopher left my house returning home on Hwy 57 and had an accident. My parents called me and told me Buford was hurt real bad and was lifeless in the emergency room at Baptist Hospital.

I arrived at the emergency room to find my parents at his side. Buford looked terrible and lifeless. I told my parents to go take a break and I would stay with Buford.

As soon as my parents left the room, Buford raised up and said, "what happened to the whiskey." I laughed and told Buford to lay back down and come out of that coma slowly when our parents came back into the room or mother and daddy would kill me.

He was very young and the whole time he was in Baptist he kept the staff in stitches. He hurt his back and had to lie flat. Buford was quiet most of the time, you really had to catch him in the right mood to talk.

It was after Pauline was killed that I saw more of Buford. We would see him about every two weeks. At my house, he could relax and no one knew where he was.

After Diane, his step-daughter, graduated from high school, Buford sent her here to live with us. Diane now lives in the Murfreesboro area.

Michael, his step-son, also came to live with us after high school. Michael worked with my husband and Buford bought him a dump truck and a travel trailer. Michael now lives in the St. Louis area.

We adopted a child in June of 1970. We named him William Hayse Davis after Buford. William is our only child.

It is hard for Davis to understand why her baby brother had to die first in the family. "I go up to the cemetery and they are all there but me. I wish Buford could still be with us. I know Dwana needs him, too," stated Davis.

Davis believes Buford would be proud, but he did not want to take the glory. "I am proud of what Buford did, he worked hard. I do not like to brag or use his name to glorify myself. I am proud that they have kept his memory alive. Buford was a though, quiet man that loved everyone, but you didn’t lie to him."

"Buford was a neat dresser, and he liked his clothes, most everybody liked him, but I guess there were a few that didn’t," continued Davis.

Davis commented that there are many things about Buford Pusser that will never be told. Her brother kept a lot of secrets in his heart. Davis believes her brother knew who killed Pauline, he would never tell, but he knew.

John the oldest brother worked at Brown Shoe Company in Selmer before moving to Illinois to work. He had a wife Carol, two sons Carl Wayne and Buford Wayne Pusser, also named after his uncle Buford. John died in 1992 and is buried in the same cemetery in Adamsville.

Gailya and her husband Bill live in Collierville, Tennessee. They have one son William Hayse Davis, named after his uncle Buford Hayse Pusser.

The late Buford Hayse Pusser and his wife the late Pauline Pusser, had one step- daughter, Diane Vance and one step-son, Michael Vance and one daughter, Dwana Pusser Garrison.

McNairy sheriff shot, wife slain in ambush

By John Smith

In the early hours on the night of August 12, 1967, Sheriff Buford Pusser received a call at home. The caller told Buford that there was serious trouble flaring up on New Hope Road. The caller told Buford that there were some drunks threatening to shoot each other and if he didn’t get there quickly there were going to be some dead people in the street.

After hanging up the phone, Buford jumped out of bed and began to put his uniform on. While Buford was trying to get dressed, Pauline got up and said she was going along with Buford since she was already up and the kids were at Buford’s mother’s house.

As the Sheriff and his wife were riding down New Hope Road, neither of them heard the black Cadillac approaching from behind. As the Cadillac got closer it pulled along side the Sheriff and his wife. When the Cadillac was right beside Buford’s car, the shots began and struck Pauline in the head area. Pauline sank in the seat holding on to her husband’s arm.

Pusser knew his wife had been shot and that he had to get down the road to get away from these madmen. Buford drove nearly two miles down New Hope Road before coming to a complete stop.

While Buford was checking the condition of his wife the black Cadillac appeared again this time rendering point blank shots at the Sheriff and his wife. The second series of shots from the gunmen are the ones that hit Buford in the face, and a second one hitting Pauline for the second time. After the shots, Buford said the gunmen must have thought they had killed both of them since they flew off in their car. Buford told his dying wife how much he loved her and that he would get revenge for what they had done to his beautiful wife.

Buford was transported to the medical facility in Selmer, then transferred to Baptist Hospital in Memphis. While Buford was a patient in Memphis, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Dept. thought it would be best if they kept a deputy around the clock at Buford’s door of the hospital.

Although Buford was in the County hospital, it didn’t stop Chief Deputy Sheriff Jim Moffet along with State, County, and Federal Law-Enforcement officers from investigating the case.

Moffet and TBI Agents found eleven bullet holes in Buford’s Plymouth along with 14 empty .30 caliber cartridge cases.

Just hours after the shooting, rumors that Buford had shot his wife began. The fact that people would start such a blatant lie about Buford made many citizens of McNairy county angry. Authorities investigating the terrible incident stated that they shared the same opinion as the citizens.

Because Buford was in the hospital and in poor condition, he was not able to attend his wife’s funeral. Buford returned home eighteen days later after undergoing extensive plastic surgery performed by Rufus Cravens.

Buford’s mother told her son that a local postal worker, James Hall, had taped the funeral services if he wanted to listen to them. Buford, still in disbelief and bitter towards the killers, told her that he had no desire to think about that tragic day with his loving wife.

Buford decided that it was time to change his artillery from a 12 gauge shotgun to an M-16 carbine. He also changed his .41 caliber magnum to a .357 magnum and started driving a new Oldsmobile Toronado. From that day on, Buford vowed to find the men that took a piece of his life away.

Big Hill Pond

Big Hill Pond State Park lies in the southwestern part of McNairy County and encompasses approximately 5,000 acres of magnificent timberland and hardwood bottom land. Cypress Creek and Tuscumbia River border the property. Several oxbow lakes and sloughs add to the waterway. The flood plain adjacent to both the Tuscumbia River and Cypress Creek contains small oxbow lakes and swamp areas which are desirable habitat for waterfowl, wildlife and fishing. Big Hill Pond Highlights
Park Highlights: The Boardwalk and Dismal Swamp--eight tenths (.8) of a mile long, through the scenic Dismal Swamp The Observation Tower--70 feet tall, this refurbished fire tower offers a panoramic view of Travis McNatt Lake and Dismal Swamp Civil War Earthworks--railroad guard post built by Union Soldiers Nature Watching--waterfowl, including osprey, migrations in spring and fall, some year round residence, abundant wildlife.

The park derives its name from Big Hill Pond which was created in 1853 when dirt was scooped from a borrow pit to build a levee across the Tuscumbia and Cypress Creek bottoms for the Memphis to Charleston Railroad. Over the years, a great stand of cypress trees has grown in and around the 35-acre pond. The Pond is accessible by four wheel drive.

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