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Wyoming People

Years of change

Written by Christy Hemken

 Red Garretson retires after 45 years

Laramie - When asked what he’s done with his first week of retirement after 45 years as a Wyoming brand inspector, R.E. “Red” Garretson says not much, but he’s going to have to figure something out before he flunks retirement.
    “I knew someday the time would come to retire, and things are changing now with brand inspecting,” he says, noting computerization and health issues as two reasons he decided to step down at 70 years old; Garretson’s retirement officially began July 1.
    “Health issues have taken center stage and there’s quite a change coming about. I thought maybe it was a change somebody younger than me should get started on,” he says.
    However, change is one thing Red has become familiar with over the last four-and-a-half decades. When he first started inspecting livestock the Wyoming Livestock Board was the Wyoming Livestock and Sanitation Board, and it wasn’t even in charge of inspections, which were run by the sheriff’s offices until 1961. In 1965 the Wyoming legislature ordered the inspection of cattle on change of ownership, and inspectors began documenting sheep for the first time.
    “In 1990 the legislature changed the collection system – and brand inspections in general – because it became a producer-paid program,” says Garretson. “At that time we began to collect predator fees, which had been collected by counties. But, from then to now the everyday inspection has remained the same.”
    Born and raised at Elk Mountain, the only time Garretson has spent away from the area was his time in the military. “When I got out I went back to Elk Mountain to work on the ranch. The inspection program needed a little help, so as a young family man trying to make a living I worked as a part-time brand inspector and a deputy sheriff,” he says.
    From there Garretson took a job as a full-time inspector in Laramie and became district supervisor in 1979. In 1989 he was appointed Chief Brand Inspector, which became a Senior Supervisor position when brand inspections moved from the Stockgrowers back to the state.
    “It’s quite interesting, the amount of things you see and do,” says Garretson of his experiences out in the country. At the beginning of his career inspectors were able to make arrests, a time he calls “the good old days.”
    When the Peace Officer Standard Training (POST) Act came into effect in the 1970s, inspectors had to go through the law academy to be POST-certified for arrests, which Garretson did, enabling him to be certified for a number of years.
    “Back down the road I was involved in some rustling, and in just the everyday job duties a lot of interesting things happen,” remembers Garretson. “I’ve gathered up a few cattle butchers and several thieves in my career.”
    Garretson says as a brand inspector he would run about 35,000 miles in a year, and even more in his supervisor positions. “I’d inspect 40,000 cattle, and sometimes more, in a year, along with several hundred horses and several hundred sheep. In 1966 I was the only inspector in the area and I wrote a brand clearance every day of the year, holidays and all.”
    A pair of planks hanging on a wall in Garretson’s home holds the complete record of each brand he’s inspected, with total inspections listed by year. On June 30 he figured the final tally for his career, which equals 1,658,198 inspections as of June 30, 2008.
    In his retirement Garretson will still run his herd of cows on a piece of land north of Laramie. Of being available to give advice, he says, “I know the system and the state extremely well. I’ve been involved with a lot of changes that have transpired over the years.”
    “I’ve been through a lot of snow storms and a lot of dust,” he notes.
    Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..