Human occupancy of the Leelanau Peninsula began sometime after the glaciers' last retreat. Little specific information about prehistoric or early historic activity in the Port Oneida area is known. People were initially drawn to the area because of the fisheries and forests. Later, agricultural development was benefited by the longer growing season provided by the lake effect along the shoreline.
Carsten Burfiend, Port Oneida's first European resident, departed Hanover, Germany in 1846 and landed in Buffalo, NY before traveling by steamship to North Manitou Island. His wife, Elizabeth, remained in Buffalo. Upon reaching the island, he built a cabin and worked as a fisherman until 1852, when the U.S. Government opened mainland Michigan to settlement. He then purchased 275 acres of land on the west side of Pyramid Point and moved his wife and small children to what later became Port Oneida. Continuing to work as a fisherman, Burfiend also ferried early settlers between the islands and mainland on his fishing boat. According to one account, one of his passengers, John E. Fisher, was the first settler on the mainland and the founder of Glen Arbor. The Burfiend family lived in a three-story log cabin on the beach until the fierce storms forced them to move their home to the bluffs above the lake. They faced extreme hardships in their early years, including the deaths of three sons from pneumonia or drowning.