General Custer's NFL Connection


Yes you read the title correctly. General George Armstrong Custer has a connection to the National Football League and the Super Bowl. Even better, the General’s connection involves a player who provided a Super Bowl winning play. General Custer’s NFL connection is Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri. Felix Vinatieri was the great-great-grandfather of NFL great Adam Vinatieri. Felix Vinatieri served as General George Armstrong Custer’s bandmaster.

Felix Villiet Vinatieri was born Felice Villiet in Turin, Italy in 1834. Shortly afterward his father died. Anna, his mother, married Enrico Felice Vinatieri two years later. Felix's mother was a harpist and his stepfather a piano builder. The family moved to Naples and his stepfather encouraged Felix's musical talents. At the age of ten, Felix was an accomplished violinist. He graduated from Naples' Conservatorio di Musica San Pietro a Majella in 1853 and taught there for about a year. Felix then became the director of the Queen's Guard of Spagnis, an Italian military band, at the age of twenty. He held the position for five years, becoming quite well known as a cornetist and performer of various band instruments.

Felix Vinatieri immigrated from Northern Italy in 1859, with his opera singer sister Emmelia, and joined the US Army two years later. Felix enlisted with the 16th Regiment of Massachusetts at Boston as a musician. In 1867 he re-enlisted as an Infantry Musician with the 22nd Infantry at Fort Columbus, New York. After serving during the Civil War, he was sent west and discharged in December 1870 at Fort Sully, Dakota Territory.

I have read two versions of when Felix married his wife. One is that while living in Yankton (now South Dakota) Felix met Anna Frances Fejfar a Czechoslovakian immigrant and married in 1871. The other is that about six months after the Battle of The Little Big Horn Felix Vinatieri was discharged from the US Army and then married Anna. Either way, they had eight children and Vinatieri built a home with a studio to teach the young and for composing music.

The famed US 7th Cavalry came to Yankton on the Dakota Southern Railroad from Sioux City, Iowa on April 9, 1873 on their way to Fort Abraham Lincoln near Bismarck (now North Dakota). A ball was given in honor of General Custer and his officers. The leader of the band that night was Felix Vinatieri. General Custer found the music sophisticated for a wilderness town and asked to meet the band leader. General liked Felix Vinatieri and offered him the position of Chief Musician since the 7th's current leader had requested to be relieved of his duties. On May 7, 1873 the band departed Yankton for Fort Abraham Lincoln. After settling in at the fort, Vinatieri travelled to St. Paul, Minnesota to enlist for a three year period as Bandleader of the 7th Cavalry.

General Custer did not take the 7th’s band with him into battle on the ill fated 1876 mission to reign in the non-reservation Indians. General Custer often had the band play "Garry Owen" as the US 7th Cavalry rode into battle to raise Trooper morale. The sixteen members of the band, mostly German, had been ordered to stay on the Far West, a supply steamboat moored on the Powder River. After the stunning defeat at The Little Big Horn many of the bandmembers served as medics on the Far West as it headed back to Fort Abraham Lincoln.

Felix Vinatieri was discharged from the US Army on December 18, 1876, at Fort Abraham Lincoln, with a notation for good conduct. He returned to Yankton and organized the Yankton band, serving as its director from 1868 to 1873 and 1886 to 1891. Felix also composed music, conducted an orchestra and traveled with various shows, including the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus. On December 5, 1891 Felix died at age 57 of pneumonia and was buried in Yankton.

A few years ago a collection of Felix Vinatieri's cavalry marches, was recorded by an orchestra in California. The CD is titled ''Custer's Last Band".

While appearing on TV shows ''Late Show With David Letterman'' and ''Late Night With Conan O'Brien'' a few years ago Adam Vinatieri stated he was proud of his family’s connection to General Custer and his great-great-grandfather’s US Army service and musical career. Move over Dallas Clark, I have a new favorite Indianapolis Colt.



Felix Vinatieri


Adam Vinatieri


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