The basket swayed and the rope quivered and vibrated, but the brave cavalier sturdily held to his task, disdaining to show fear before his humble companions. The lurid light from beneath flashed upon his tanned features, and a sulphurous steam rose slowly and condensed upon the sides; but, whatever were his thoughts, the Spaniard collected as much sulphur as he could take up with him, breaking off the bright incrustations, and even dallying with his task as if in contempt of the danger, till he had leisurely filed his basket, when the signal was given and he was drawn up. The basket was emptied, and then he once more descended into the lurid crater, collected another store and was again drawn up; but far from shrinking from his task, he descended again several times, till a sufficiency had been obtained, with which the party descended to the plain.
No further back than the middle of the eighteenth century the site of Jorullo was a level plain, including several highly-cultivated fields, which formed the farm of Don Pedro di Jorullo. The plain was watered by two small rivers, called Cuitimba and San Pedro, and was bounded by mountains composed of basalt—the only indications of former volcanic action. These fields were well irrigated, and among the most fertile in the country, producing abundant crops of sugar-cane and indigo.
In the month of June, 1759, the cultivators of the farm began to be disturbed by strange subterranean noises of an alarming kind, accompanied by frequent shocks of earthquake, which continued for nearly a couple of months; but they afterward entirely ceased, so that the inhabitants of the place were lulled into security. On the night between the 28th and 29th of September, however, the subterranean noises were renewed with greater loudness than before, and the ground shook severely. The Indian servants living on the place started from their beds in terror, and fled to the neighboring mountains. Thence gazing upon their master’s farm they beheld it, along with a tract of ground measuring between three and four square miles, in the midst of which it stood, rise up bodily, as if it had been inflated from beneath like a bladder. At the edges this tract was uplifted only about 39 feet above the original surface, but so great was its convexity that toward the middle it attained a height of no less than 524 feet.
The Indians who beheld this strange phenomenon declared that they saw flames issuing from several parts of this elevated tract, that the entire surface became agitated like a stormy sea, that great clouds of ashes, illuminated by volcanic fires glowing beneath them, rose at several points, and that white-hot stones were thrown to an immense height. Vast chasms were at the same time opened in the ground, and into these the two small rivers above mentioned plunged. Their waters, instead of extinguishing the subterranean conflagration, seemed only to add to its intensity. Quantities of mud, enveloping balls of basalt, were then thrown up, and the surface of the elevated ground became studded with small cones, from which volumes of dense vapor, chiefly steam, were emitted, some of the jets rising from 20 to 30 feet in height.