Former Mississippi State football player’s children’s book has brought a spotlight to the smallest town in Mississippi

Daniel Brown’s book, Eli - Mystery on the Yazoo River, has been embraced by the small town of Satartia, where the book is set
Daniel Brown stands with his book, Eli - Pride of the Yazoo River, next to a wooden carving of...
Daniel Brown stands with his book, Eli - Pride of the Yazoo River, next to a wooden carving of the titular Eli, in the small town of Satartia, where the book is set(Patrick Johnstone/WLBT)
Published: Sep. 27, 2023 at 9:19 PM CDT
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SATARTIA, Miss. (WLBT) - “I think I may be the only SEC football player that’s ever written a children’s book.”

Daniel Brown was a kicker for the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the 1970s. Now, he is a published children’s author.

But how does a former college football player become an author?

“There is no transition; not from football to writing a children’s book,” Brown said. “It’s called being a dad.”

The story for Brown’s book, Eli – Pride of the Yazoo River, came from a bedtime story he would tell his son when he was young.

“My wife said, ‘write this down,’ she said, ‘you’ve got a story here.’”

So, Brown wrote his story, and in 1987 sent it to a publishing company in Boston.

“That publishing house said, ‘yeah, no.’”

30 years later, Brown came across his writing, and tried again.

“All those years I had the manuscript in my garage with the silverfish just working away at it, just eating through the manuscript. I found it and I said let’s try this one more time,” he said.

This time, Brown sent his book to a publishing house in Denver: Outskirts Press.

“They took it, they ran with it,” Brown said. “I guess the message I want to send somebody is if you first don’t get success, try one more time. You never know what might happen.”

But the story, how it came to be, and what it has become since Brown’s book was published is a tale of serendipity.

Brown came up with the idea for the story of Eli, a catfish that lives in the Yazoo River, one day when he was returning to Jackson, where he was living at the time, and stopped in the small town of Satartia around lunch time.

He crossed over the Yazoo River on the bridge that adorns the front of the book, and his imagination went from there.

“It was the architecture of this particular bridge that attracted me to this story,” he said standing at the foot of the rusted bridge built sometime in the 1970s or 1980s. “The fact that looking down and casting my eyes to the water, wondering what kind of fish might be under there, that’s how dreams are made. That’s where Eli came from.”

Satartia is the smallest town in Mississippi, with 66 residents, according to the town’s mayor, Michelle Douglas.

As you might expect, the book was a big hit in the small town.

“I just say it was a miracle that had happened,” Douglas said. “You never would think that someone coming across the bridge would come up with a story about a catfish and then come into the little general store to continue that story.”

Since the book was published, the story has evolved. A 14-foot-long wooden carving of Eli now sits outside the Satartia town hall, coupled with a sign that sits by the road commemorating the book and the city, and Brown published a second book in the series: Eli – Mystery on the Yazoo River. In 2022, the city hosted the Eli The Pride Of The Yazoo River Festival, which drew around 1,500 people to the small town.

“Who would have ever thought that a wooden fish would bring a town together,” Douglas said. “People are always coming through, stopping with their children, their grandchildren, Eli is the big discussion. ‘How did that come about?’ You have the chance to educate them where Eli came from.”

No one could’ve guessed that a bridge, a father’s imagination, and an imaginary fish could bring so much attention to the smallest town in the Magnolia State; all brought about 30 years after a fateful trip for lunch.

“I’m just thankful, as mayor of this town, that it has brought the recognition to Satartia that we need,” Douglas said.

“I did not know that it would become something that they would go ahead and embrace in the town of Satartia,” Brown said. “They’ve been so kind about this book and what this book has done. What is special about this town is it’s been here for a long, long time. The people are sweet, the people are kind, and there’s a giant fish that lives underneath that bridge.”

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