Little Mize Belies Its Size

Sunday, January 08, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

To Big Bend and Back, Day   4

MIZE, Mississippi— On our way to Vicksburg today, we ventured off US-49 to search for some letterboxes in the tiny town of Mize, Mississipi (pop. 285).  Mize archly proclaims itself the "Watermelon Capitol of the World" and hosts the annual Mississippi Watermelon Festival, a fundraiser for the local volunteer fire department.

Photos © Mississippi Watermelon Festival
Though economic opportunities in this area were few in the early part of the last century, farmers carved out a niche for themselves in the 1920s and 1930s by cultivating particularly sweet watermelons known as Cuban Queen.  Since those early days, the cultivars have evolved into what is now widely recognized and prized in Mississippi as the Smith County watermelon.

Other parts of Mize's story aren't quite so savory.  About five miles south of the town lies a seemingly peaceful valley known as Sullivan's Hollow, a name with a notorious reputation in Mississippi history.  The hollow was settled by an Irishman named Thomas Sullivan.  In 1807, Sullivan packed up his family and all their belongings on a shaky wagon, left South Carolina and migrated to this part of the Mississippi Territory.

After staking their claim in the wilderness, the Sullivans began to populate the valley, with their eleven children.  During the same period "Pappy Tom" fathered 11 additional children with his common law wife.  Other relatives from Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina heard about the valley and moved there.  As the Sullivans' numbers increased, disagreements sparked and tempers flared.  Soon the hollow and its residents were widely known for their drunkenness, mistrust of outsiders and general lawlessness.

Wild Bill Sullivan
A particularly fearsome grandson of "Pappy Tom" earned the moniker Wild Bill Sullivan.  Perhaps the most notorious member of this boisterous clan, he was known as the self-appointed King of Sullivan's Hollow.  Wild Bill was accused of killing 50 or more men but was indicted only for the murder of his own brother, a crime he successfully appealed.  Because of his well-known antipathy to strangers, outsiders were afraid of entering the hollow, especially after dark.  Like many of his brethren, Wild Bill drank heavily, brawled regularly and bounced in and out of trouble with the law. 

Wild Bill is long gone from the hollow but many of his relatives still inhabit the area, as evidenced by the local Sullivan Cemetery, populated almost exclusively by deceased bearing the name of Sullivan.  The hollow is crisscrossed by narrow county roads with intersections bearing no stop signs.  Presumably, locals know the pecking order well enough to recognize who goes first if they simultaneously arrive at an intersection with someone else.  Fortunately, on this foggy Sunday morning, we never saw another car on the road.

Sullivan Cemetery
Though the clan's notoriety has subsided significantly since the days of Wild Bill, we did ensure that we were out of the hollow before the sun went down.

  • Started in Hattiesburg, MS; ended in Vicksburg, MS
  • Miles driven: 164          (Trip total:  708)
  • States: 1 (MS)          (Trip total:  4)
  • Letterboxes found:  3  
  • Weather:  Fog, Rain, Fog, Rain, Fog, Rain 58° to 67°
  • Gas (premium):  $3.499 (Vicksburg, MS)
  • Sullivan headstones:  253
  • Town names of the day:  D'Lo, Hot Coffee
  • Pickup trucks posing as roadside sweet potato stands:  6
  • Raindrops:  794,208
  • NFL Playoff Score:  Atlanta Falcons 2, NY Giants 24    = (