The Curious case of Harry Fisher, Part II

Posted by Ken Campbell January 28, 2010 0 Comment 701 views

As the O’Neil party spent more time in the Olympics, working their way through the tangled underbrush and steep terrain, each of the men seemed to thrive on the experience, none more so than Private Harry Fisher. His days were meticulously recorded in dipped ink on ruled notepaper, detailed, thoughtful accounts of the expedition’s progress and setbacks, presented with humor and intelligence. He had thoughts of publishing his account of the trip after it was over, and the style in which he wrote is easy to read. Although it was never picked up by a publishing house, it probably should have been. The back story, the issue of his hidden identity, just makes the narrative that much more interesting.

It is astounding to think of it now, the journey that Harry Fisher was able to take as a member of the O’Neil expedition. Uncharted terrain, high and wild country that had never felt the boot of any explorer or hunter, all spread out in front of him. He tramped through the high mountain meadows, hunted and fished in what must have seemed like a sportsman’s paradise. He climbed several of the high peaks, and eventually became separated from the others in his group on the flanks of Mount Olympus, after which he began a solo trip down the Queets river to the sea. After making it to Hoquiam and working his way up the Chehalis river, he caught up with Lt. O’Neil’s group again and finished the journey with the rest of the party.

It had been the trip of a lifetime. But Harry Fisher – rather, the actor who played Harry Fisher – was a smart man. He must have known it couldn’t last.

It was about a year after the expedition had concluded that Private Harry Fisher saw his story begin to unravel. He was stationed at the Vancouver Barracks, Washington, when the deal went down. It turned out that the real Harry Fisher, another former soldier who had served alongside Hanmore at Fort Spokane, had been traveling in Europe while the man who had borrowed his name was blazing new trails in the Olympics. He had sowed his oats, presumably, and returned to the US. Now he was looking for a return to military life, so he reenlisted in the Army, and in so doing, he started a process that could only have one conclusion.

Not long after the real Harry Fisher had been sworn in, the Army discovered that it had some housecleaning to do. Army records showed that a Private with the same name was already in the Fourteenth Infantry at Vancouver Barracks, collecting a paycheck that was clearly not his. After the personnel office wiped the egg from its face, the order was sent out for the imposter to be removed. His commanding officer confronted him, and the truth came out. After hearing the case, both his commanding officer and the regimental commander recommended that James Hanmore be discharged for “having enlisted under false pretences.”

The subterfuge was over, but there’s still a little more of the story left. A dishonorable discharge is a large black mark next to anyone’s name, and Hanmore now had two of them. Society, then as now, hung a stigma on the man who carried a DD; work would be difficult to find, his character would always be in question.

But James Hanmore, civilian, knew one place where none of that would ever matter. So, instead of returning to society, he went in the other direction.

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