The earliest evidence of an attempt to hold a Fourth of July Powwow was in 1891. In the 1890s, however, traditional Indian dances were illegal under Bureau of Indian Affairs rules, and the Indian police and Flathead Indian Agent Peter Ronan used the threat of U.S. Army intervention to break up the dance. The Bureau of Indian Affairs found it difficult to argue that it should be illegal to celebrate the Fourth of July, though for a time government attempts to suppress traditional dances forced the tribes to hold them secretly. Because of this persecution, we cannot, at this time, establish definitively when the first Fourth of July Powwow was held.

The earliest contemporary record is an article in a Missoula newspaper describing the 1900 Fourth of July Powwow or Celebration. In 1977 Blind Mose Chouteh, a Salish elder, placed the first Arlee powwow three years before the 1901 smallpox epidemic. That would put the first Fourth of July Celebration in 1898. Morton J. Elrod, a professor from Missoula and one of the earliest white visitors to the powwow, left some stories about his visit to Indian dances on the Flathead Reservation during the late 1890s. Elrod did not give an exact year or time of year. in 1998 Father George de la Motte, SJ, preached a sermon at Jocko Agency near Arlee that talked about the revelry of the Jocko Indians on July 4, 1898. While the sermon did not mention traditional dances or label the occasion a powwow, presumably de la Motte was preaching against the Fourth of July Powwow.

Robert Bigart, editor, Over a Century of Moving to the Drum: Salish Indian Celebrations on the Flathead Indian Reservation, 1998