A famous star of American football is the great-great grandson of Custer's bandmaster
FROM GARRYOWEN IN GLORY!
It is a long way from the weather-beaten, brownish-yellow buffalo grass that blankets the quiet bluffs of the Little Bighorn battle site in eastern Montana to the turf of last weekend's Super Bowl in New Orleans. But Adam Vinatieri, the New England Patriots kicker whose 48-yard, game-winning field goal catapulted him to stardom (Superbowl, 2005) , links the two American icons.
Vinatieri's great-great-grandfather, Felix Vinatieri, a musician and composer, served as George Armstrong Custer's bandmaster during the Civil War general's Indian campaign. And Vinatieri's great-great-grandmother, Anna, became a close friend of Custer's wife, Libbie.
Adam grew up hearing stories of ''Granddad Felix,'' who came to the United States with his father, a piano maker from northern Italy, and then joined the service and made his way west.
''The story was passed down through the generations, and it was a point of pride,'' Vinatieri said by telephone, between television appearances on ''Late Show With David Letterman'' and ''Late Night With Conan O'Brien''
this week. ''There's a historical museum in the town where I grew up. They have some of Granddad's musical instruments and some of the music he composed.''
''Custer's Last Band,'' a collection of Felix Vinatieri's cavalry marches, was recently recorded by an orchestra in California. ''I listen to that CD and can't quite get over the fact that it's my granddad's music,'' Adam said.
In the spring of 1876, when Custer led the Seventh Cavalry out of Fort Abraham Lincoln in North Dakota to its eventual doom along the banks of the Little Bighorn in the famous battle against Crazy Horse and his Sioux warriors, most of the band -- and its leader -- stayed behind. Had Felix Vinatieri not remained at Fort Lincoln, ''There probably wouldn't be anybody, no Vinatieris, no Adam,'' said Adam's father, Paul.
The writer and historian Bob Karolevitz, of Mission Hill, S.D., said: ''Custer loved music. He believed the band boosted his troops' morale, and they were good entertainment on long trips.''
Custer's band accompanied the troops on marches, but usually not into battle, for the sake of expedience, Karolevitz said. Only the bugler John Martini, another Italian -- who, like many Army musicians, spoke little
English -- was at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
Karolevitz, a World War II veteran who has written about local history, watched Adam Vinatieri kick for South Dakota State University in nearby Vermillion in the mid-1990's. ''The name jumped out at me,'' he said, and through research Karolevitz drew the Vinatieri family connection.