The bushranger gangs of the 1860s were not too different to the rock bands of the 1970s. The members were larger than life, they were constantly travelling, and the members were constantly changing either because of “creative differences”, imprisonment or through untimely death. So it was with the highest profile gang of the era – that belonging to Johnny Gilbert and Ben Hall. Having just lost three of their gang within a span of months (Mickey Burke to suicide, John Vane gaoled, and John O’Meally shot dead), the pair were quick to find replacements. Thus was added into the mix Jim Gordon, alias Mount, an old hand known not-so-affectionately as “Old Man”.
Gordon assisted the bushrangers on several outings in 1864, but it was on 20 May he would distinguish himself as a formidable bushranger. The trio began their work by bailing up two men on the road from Cowra and relieving them of £6. The men were on their way to the races at Young (formerly Lambing Flat) and one was carrying pastry to be had there. The brigands helped themselves to the pastry and Hall complained that it was “devilish dry”. Surely it was one thing to rob a man of his lunch, but to criticise his cooking on top of it all must have been insult on injury. At any rate the bushrangers decided to ride to the nearest pub to wash it down.
At 5pm Hall, Gilbert and Gordon rode up to the Bang Bang Hotel, Koorawatha, where around thirty-five men were enjoying a leisurely drink. Hall was mounted on a superb chestnut horse with one white foot, the others rode a bay and a black horse. Each man was armed with a rifle and trio of revolvers. Promptly, the bushrangers bailed up the patrons. All of the occupants of the building were rounded up, totalling twenty persons, all of whom were guarded by Hall while Gilbert and Gordon positioned themselves at the gate, still mounted.
In the paddock plainclothes Senior Constables MacNamara and Scott were with their horses, who were grazing. The officers were on special duty to escort race horses from Cowra to the Burrangong races and had been on the road since 10am that morning. They had been in the company of messrs Wilson of Young, and Skillicorn of Bathurst, and while the civilians were in the bar the troopers had taken the horses to the yard to feed them. Suddenly the troopers were startled when Gilbert and Gordon entered the yard on horseback. Gilbert presented a revolver and Gordon a carbine.
“Leave them horses,” shouted Gordon, but the police were baffled and did not respond. “I say once more, Leave them horses!”
Suddenly realising the danger, the troopers went for their pistols but were covered by Gilbert who stated, “Take your hands out of that, you wretches, or I’ll blow your brains out!”
Gilbert fired three shots before the police replied. Seven shots were exchanged with the police advancing upon the mounted bushrangers. As the police closed the thirty yard gap between themselves and their attackers, Hall and Gordon took off, leaving Gilbert to defend himself. Upon realising he was on his own, Gilbert took off after the others with Senior Constable Scott in hot pursuit.
Scott stuck to Hall who unloaded his revolver at the trooper while riding full gallop. After each shot Hall would rest his revolver upon his thigh while looking to see if the shot took effect. Scott kept at him, resting his weapon on his left arm to steady it. One of Scott’s shots struck Hall’s cabbage tree hat causing it to fly off, though it was attached to a string. Hall clutched at his head and swore before speeding away. With Hall out of reach, Scott returned to the hotel where Gilbert and Gordon were sheltering behind the building. Gordon, seeing Scott 350 yards away, dismounted and fired at him shouting, “Take that, you wretch!” The shot hit the ground and ricocheted into the building. Seeing his shot so ineffective, Gordon mounted and retreated. The trio threatened a return visit as they galloped away with their proverbial tails between their legs.
By the end of the fight around 30 shots had been fired, but there were no casualties. Inspector Singleton was soon informed and a party to search for the bushrangers was dispatched, anticipating that they could be headed to a local race meeting. The search was fruitless and the gang would strike again three days later.
The gang soon drew 19-year-old John Dunleavy into the fold and after a few more outings, including one wherein a victim was viciously flogged for having been part of a search party, Gilbert decided to take his leave of the gang. It is unclear what prompted his decision, but thereafter the gang would be seen to be led by Ben Hall and referred to as such in the press.