Jacob Boll was a Swiss born in 1828. He was never a member of the Dallas French colony, but both his parents and his brothers had come to Texas in 1858 to settle at La Réunion, and when misfortune overtook Jacob in Switzerland, he decided to come to America and join them. A man of excellent education, he was an apothecary and practiced his profession in his native land for seventeen years — years during which he spent his spare hours following his scientific tastes and writing one little volume on the flora of the Bremgarten region.
In 1869 his pharmacy went into bankruptcy and in addition his wife had a nervous breakdown and had to be confined in a sanitarium. The distracted man decided to join his family in America who had been living at Dallas since the breakup of the colony.
In his youth he had somewhere met and made friends with Louis Agassiz who had come to hold a professorship in zoology and geology at Harvard. On arriving in the United States he journeyed to Boston and Cambridge and renewed his friendship with Agassiz. By chance the Harvard professor was interested in making a comprehensive collection of Texas animals for Harvard’s museum of comparative zoology, and when he heard that Boll was headed that way, suggested his fellow Swiss do the collecting. Boll accepted with delight and when he made the collection, he returned to Harvard. But he felt the pull of his family ties and returned to Dallas, where he meticulously marked his letters “J. Boll, naturalist, Box 71, Dallas, Texas, U.S.A.” He spent the next seven years, until his death in 188o, investigating the mineral resources and studying the natural history of Texas. And at his death a project was being considered to establish a geological survey of Texas with Boll at the head of it.
In Dr. Geiser’s Naturalists of the Frontier, we get a sharp picture of the old man from two people who recalled him across sixty years. One said:
I can remember him so plainly riding upon his little yellow pony “Gypsy” to his home at the corner of Swiss and Germania avenues. We thought him peculiar because he caught butterflies and snakes. And yet he was very good to us.
He was so kind to us little children and used to let us feed his silkworms, and look at the Mastodon skeleton when we had found insects for him. I never knew him to speak unkindly of anyone. His one passion was music, which affected him deeply.
Geiser describes Jacob Boll’s last trip:
Death came to the explorer in the dugout hut of a collecting camp on the Pease River near its confluence with the Red River, on September 29, i880. Here, surrounded by the fossils he had gathered in the last few days of his work, and attended only by his teamster — a mere boy terrified by the sufferings of the naturalist — Boll succumbed to peritonitis after an illness of ten days.
Boll with his great love of science and his trained mind happened in Texas just when the particular job he was fitted for needed to be done, but not the least of his services was to bring to the isolated and discouraged Reverchon a fresh inspiration to carry on his vocation.
Courtesy The Lusty Texasn of Dallas by John William Rogers. Additional information of Julian Reverchon can be found here.