From “…and The Mound-builders Vanished From The Earth”, a page from the site American Heritage (with the tagline: “Trusted Writing on History, Travel, Food and Culture Since 1949”).

Such vivid depictions caught the public fancy, and other “historians” were soon profiting from the fad. In 1833 a journalist named Josiah Priest published an elaborate explanation of the mounds in a jumbled volume, American Antiquities . It was a best seller: some 22,000 copies were bought in thirty months.

The speculative ferment over the mounds naturally had its impact on the imaginations of poets and novelists. The first domestic treatment of the subject in verse seems to have been “The Genius of Oblivion,” published in 1823 by the New Hampshire poet Sarah J. Hale. Her thesis was that the Mound Builders were refugees from the Phoenician city of Tyre, who fled to America. In “Thanatopsis,” the poem that established his reputation in 1817 when he was only twenty-three, William Cullen Bryant spoke of the ancient race of men interred in “one mighty sepulchre” among “the hills rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun.” Fifteen years later, in “The Prairies,” he was moved by a visit to the mound country to evoke “the dead of other days” and “the mighty mounds that overlook the river.”

… A race, that long has passed away, Built them;—a disciplined and populous race Heaped, with long toil, the earth. … … The red man came — The roaming hunter tribes, warlike and fierce, And the mound-builders vanished from the earth. … … The gopher mines the ground Where stood the swarming cities. All is gone; All—save the piles of earth that hold their bones, The platforms where they worshipped unknown gods. …

Novelists, too, heeded the appeal of the mounds, and for a while the genre of Mound Builder fiction was an active subbranch of American popular literature. A typical specimen is Cornelius Matthews’ Behemoth: A Legend of the Mound-Builders (1839), which described the efforts of the Mound Builders to cope with a mammoth of supernatural size and strength that rampaged through their cities until slain by a hero named Bokulla.

Such fictions were avidly consumed by a New York farm boy named Joseph Smith …

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