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To gain an edge in geographic knowledge, John Jacob Astor, of the Pacific Fur Company, financed an expedition overland and chose Wilson Price Hunt to command it, as well as to be his St. Louis agent. Hunt left St. Louis with a party of sixty men in October 1810. They first canoed 450 miles on the Missouri River, then headed overland on foot and horseback. Hunt had few outdoors experiences, but he did prove skilled at negotiating encounters with indigenous groups. By the summer of 1811, Hunt had reached the Snake River, where valuable supplies were lost while attempting to canoe the rapids.

Hunt split his group into two, with each attempting to reach the Columbia on their own. Both parties eventually arrived in Astoria, at the mouth of the Columbia, by early 1812. Once there, Hunt continued by ship to Russian Alaska and Hawai’i. He returned to Astoria in August 1813, only to find that the partners wished to abandon the settlement. The post was to be sold to the Northwest Company, another rival of the HBC.

After the Pemmican War of 1816, the two companies were forcibly merged by the British government.  This merger resulted in a major reorganization and created the Columbia Department of the HBC to cover the Pacific Northwest. The regional headquarters were at Fort George, formerly Fort Astoria, which was then moved to Fort Vancouver on the Columbia.