Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Custer's Last Band, Part 2


Yesterday we were introduced to Felix Vinatieri, best remembered for is his position as Custer’s last bandleader.

Felix Vinatieri’s story begins in Turin, Italy with the birth of Vinatieri in 1834. His mother, a harpist, and his step-father, a piano-builder, encouraged his musical interests at a young age. By the age of ten he was an accomplished violinist and went on to graduate from Naples’ Conservatorio di Musica San Pietro a Majella before accepting a position as the director of the Queen’s Guard of Spagnis.

In 1859 Felix and his sister immigrated to the United States. He served as an infantry band leader during the Civil War before being sent to Fort Sully in the Dakota Territory. Here he was discharged in 1870 and moved to Yankton where he met and married the daughter of an immigrant Czech family.

About the same time Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer and the 7th Cavalry Regiment was assigned to be headquartered at Fort Abraham Lincoln. The 7th Cavalry arrived in Yankton in April of 1873 and remained there for a number of weeks before commencing the long march to their new post at Fort Abraham Lincoln. During their stay, the citizens of Yankton organized a grand reception to honor the officers of the 7th Cavalry. The leader of the band that night was Felix Vinatieri. Custer was so impressed with the sophisticated music that he offered Vinatieri the position of Chief Musician of the 7th Cavalry.

On this week in May 1873, Vinatieri rode out of Yankton, bound for Fort Lincoln. In addition to providing music for the fort, Vinatieri and his band accompanied Custer in his 1874 exploration of the Black Hills. Two years later when Custer headed west towards the Little Big Horn Vinatieri’s band once again accompanied the troops. But for Vinatieri, Custer made a life-saving decision, ordering the band to remain on the Far West steamboat. After the battle, the band members served as medics for the fifty-one wounded soldiers of Reno’s detachment that were brought back to Fort Lincoln aboard the steamboat. That December, Vinatieri was discharged and he returned to Yankton where he spent the remainder of his life.

Today, Vinatieri’s original manuscripts are housed in the National Music Museum of Vermillion, SD. When reknowed trumpet-player Steve Charpié learned of the Vinatieri archives, he volunteered to arrange and record Vinatieri’s music in time for the 125th anniversary of the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Felix Vinatieri’s music can still be enjoyed as the compact disk recording; Custer’s Last Band: Original Music by Felix Vinatieri, Custer’s Legendary Bandmaster.

Written by Christina Campbell