Daniel Brown was kicker for Mississippi State University in the 1970s, but he has always been a storyteller. Brown is now a published children’s author, known for various speaking engagements across the United States, and a radio talk show host in Orlando, Florida.
“I think I may be the only SEC football player that’s ever written a children’s book,” Brown joked.
Brown’s book, Eli – Pride of the Yazoo River, came from a bedtime story he would tell his son when he was young, and it takes place in the small town of Satartia.
“There is no transition, not from football to writing a children’s book,” Brown shared. “It’s called being a dad. My wife said, ‘Write this down,’ she said, ‘You’ve got a story here.'”
In 1987, the former kicker wrote his story and sent it to a publishing company in Boston. The publishing house declined his story, and 30 years later, Brown came across Eli’s story and decided to try again.
“All those years, I had the manuscript in my garage with the silverfish just working away at it and eating through it. I found it and said, ‘Let’s try this one more time,'” he said.
Outskirts Press in Denver accepted Brown’s manuscript, and Eli – Pride of the Yazoo River was finally published.
“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.”
Years ago, Brown lived in Jackson, and on his way home, he stopped in the small town of Satartia around lunchtime. He crossed over the Yazoo River on the bridge that adorns the front of the book, and the avid storyteller began to let his imagination create a story about a catfish that lives in the Yazoo River.
“It was the architecture of this particular bridge that attracted me to this story,” Brown shared. “The fact that I look down and cast 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.”
And so the story of Eli, a catfish that lives in the Yazoo River, was born.
Satartia is the smallest town in Mississippi with a population of 66 residents. In fact, it’s not even referred to as a town, but rather a village. The book has undoubtedly been a big hit for this small, tight-knit community.
“I just say it was a miracle,” said Michelle Douglas, the mayor of Sartartia. “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 become part of Satartia’s town culture. 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.
Brown published a second book, 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. As mayor of this town, I’m just thankful that it has brought the recognition to Satartia that we need.”
“They’ve been so kind about this book and what it has done,” Brown said. “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.”
You never know what’s around the corner, or in this case, under the bridge. The story of Eli has brought recognition and tourism to the smallest town in the Magnolia State. Thanks to Daniel Brown, who stopped in Satartia for lunch all those years ago, and his imagination, Eli’s story continues to bring joy to Satartia and readers everywhere.