In 1969, Buford Pusser, at his wife Pauline's behest, retires from the professional wrestling ring and moves back to his Tennessee small town to start a logging business with his father, Carl Pusser. With a friend, he visits a gambling and prostitution establishment, the Lucky Spot, and is beaten up after catching the casino bosses cheating at craps. Pusser is seriously injured with a knife and receives over 200 stitches to his face. He complains to the local sheriff but is ignored, and soon becomes aware of the rampant corruption in McNairy County as the gambling owners bribe the poorly paid police to stay out of their way.
Pusser decides to clean up the county and runs for sheriff. Buford Pusser wins, and soon becomes famous for being incorruptible, intolerant of crime, and for his array of four foot hickory clubs which he uses to great effect in dispatching criminals and destroying their clandestine gambling dens and illegal distilleries. Over the next year, some residents praise Buford Pusser as an honest cop in a crooked town; others denounce him as a bully willing to break some laws to uphold others. Pusser is attacked several times, and finally he and Pauline are ambushed in their car while they are driving down a rural road by moonshiners.
Pauline is killed and Pusser is seriously injured. He is admitted to the hospital after being shot and while still in a neck and face cast, rams a sheriff cruiser through the front doors of the Lucky Spot, killing two of his would-be assassins. As he leaves with two deputies, the townspeople arrive and begin throwing the gambling tables out into the parking lot. They light a bonfire as an overwhelmed Pusser wipes tears from his eyes..