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Once upon a time, in a small Mississippi town called Satartia…there was a catfish race

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Catfish races at Satartia. Photo by David Day
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Satartia, Mississippi

Satartia is from the Choctaw and means “Pumpkin Place,” but they must have taken the pumpkins with them because I didn’t see a single one.

As one of the oldest non-Native settlements in Mississippi, Satartia is also the smallest, according to people who count that kind of thing. The 2020 census lists 41 residents. The town has had a cotton gin for some time but can brag to its jealous neighbors about the country store that opened up recently.

As of yesterday, Satartia can also list itself as a must-see location in Mississippi during the “Eli-Pride of the Yazoo River Festival.” The event on Saturday, July 30, 2022, was everything local festivals should be.

Smackwater

The band was perfect. A group of seasoned musicians that call themselves “Smackwater” laid down set after set of music made for a Catfish Festival. One of the boys in the band, guitar player and vocalist Mike Weathersby, is the guy who sold Tim McGraw his first guitar. Well, he sold it to his mom. McGraw was 9 years old at the time and hid from Weathersby.

Bob Ford and his granddaughter, Lily, enjoy a dance. Photo by David Day

Bob Ford and his granddaughter, Lily, enjoy dancing while the band Smackwater plays. Photo by David Day

Smackwater only took breaks during the catfish races.

If you do nothing else with your life, go to Satartia and see the catfish races. This year radio personality Emily Tillman Donovan called the races. Donovan’s skilled voice had the crowd cheering for the four whiskered athletes competing for glory, country, and the honor of being the Grand Champion of the Satartia Catfish Races, Esq. People were invited to bring their own thoroughbred racing catfish to compete with the ones pardoned by Simmon’s Farm-Raised Catfish. If you’re not a racing catfish trainer you could rent one of the working-class Simmon’s catfish for just $15. The money is being used to help Satartia create a community garden.

Catfish Racing

After the preliminary races were complete a final race was held to declare the Grand Champion. The crowd was intense and dollar bills were seen exchanging hands as the four winners lined up in the racing queues. The area around the race track was packed as everyone leaned in to get the best view of the much-anticipated race. Four champion catfish lined up at the gate awaiting the countdown from Master of Ceremonies Donovan. When it was time the person holding the gate, who was at least $15 in at this point, would pull the wooden gate up and the race would start. The racers had about 20 feet to swim to the finish line through the wood-lined waterway skillfully created by local artisans.

The anxious crowd gathers around the race track. Photo by David Day

The anxious crowd gathers around the race track. Photo by David Day

Donovan cried out 2! …1! and they were off. In an attempt to coax their catfish to run faster the gate holders tapped the wooden side rails with the wooden gates. The thinking was it would scare the fish and cause them to run away, in the direction of the finish line. But the thumping seemed to confuse the fish who kept swimming around looking for the source of the thumping. Finally one of the competitors, a thin woman in a summer weight dress, stopped thumping. Her fish looked up at her and seemed to say, “Preciate that, Ma’am” and proceeded to stand on its tail and run as fast as it could to glory.

The other renters of fish, seeing the singular noble food source racing to the finish line, quit thumping with their wooden gates. Their rent-a-fish, obviously irritated, gave them dirty looks and slowly decided to mosey out of the gate area. But it was too late. The Grand Champion of the Satartia Catfish Races, Esq. declared his victory with a rapid pass under the finish line banners. The crowd went wild, men cried, coyotes could be heard wailing congratulations in the background and the Navy Thunderbirds did a flyby. Or at least it seemed like it.

The Victorious

The owner of the champion racing catfish, Esq., was 84-year-old Sandy Hollars of Eagle Lake. She was awarded a trophy cup and invited to return the following year to defend her championship. Her winning entry along with the other catfish was released into the Yazoo River from the haunted Satartia Bridge by a willing group of children who lofted them into the waters. Ryan Donovan graciously lofted more fish than anyone else (photographic evidence below).

The originator of the festival, Eli-Pride of the Yazoo River, was believed to have caught the exhausted athletes and congratulated them all for their efforts.

Sandra "Grams" Hollars, 84, relishes in her victory. Photo by David Day

Sandra “Gram” Hollars, 84, relishes in her victory. Photo by David Day

Event organizer Michele Harris estimated about a thousand people had come and gone throughout the day with several hundred people remaining for the championship race. It rained sporadically throughout the event and that may have stopped some people from showing up. But those who did show up enjoyed numerous vendors. Arts and crafts vendors showed their wares including pottery, jewelry, paintings, and sculptures. A selection of food trucks, including Rockin’ Pops, Green Ghost Tacos, Campter Van Coffee and Gore’s Pork Skins were also on hand.

 

The Story Teller

The author of “Eli-Pride of the Yazoo River,” Daniel Brown was there signing books and speaking with everyone. Brown also kicked for Mississippi State in the late ’70s and a couple of his old teammates showed up as well. Brown is a storyteller who speaks with a refined accent that isn’t from around here. Below, Brown tells the story of how he came up with that big fish story.

Almost every child you saw, and many adults, had their faces painted adding to the festival atmosphere enjoyed by most. As if that wasn’t enough, at the end of the evening, as the sun was setting, Michele Harris spoke to the crowd and invited them to stick around for the fireworks show. For the two hundred or so people who stayed, it was a perfect end to the festival. The fireworks show rivaled the massive show put on in Vicksburg on July 4th and while not as long as the Vicksburg show, was every bit as spectacular.

This 9 year old was pleased with the face paint. Photo by David Day

This 9-year-old was pleased with the face paint. Photo by David Day

Mark your calendar for next year’s event. This is a must-see for you, the kids, and the grandkids.

The racing fish are released into the Yazoo. Photo by David Day

The racing fish are released into the Yazoo. Photo by David Day

An impressive fireworks show ended the festival. Photo by David Day

An impressive fireworks show ended the festival. Photo by David Day

 

 

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