As Paladin returns from a job by stagecoach, he gets out to stretch when the driver stops in Salamander City for fresh horses. A hobo, Dooley Delaware, begs the driver for a ride but the man refuses to give the man credit. Dooley then asks Paladin for some money but the driver shoos him away. As Dooley goes into the town saloon, the driver explains that Dooley claims he was a circus acrobat but now he just wanders from town to town.
Interested despite himself, Paladin goes into the saloon and watches as Dooley tumbles across the floor, entertaining the customers for money. The customers toss the coins on the floor and enjoy watching the hobo crawl to pick up the money. One hulking man, Bolo, kicks Dooley back to the floor when he gets up and Paladin helps the man up. The saloon girl, Rena, whispers a warning to Paladin not to get involved. Ben Marquette, the richest rancher in town, drops $50 on the floor and invites Dooley to get it. However, he explains that it's a wager: he's betting that Dooley can't walk a rope strung across the saloon. Dooley says that he can do it but that he can't match the money. Instead he offers his services as a servant to Marquette for a year and the rancher agrees.
Dooley walks the rope and when Marquette realizes that he'll lose the bet, he secretly signals Bolo. The cowhand secretly cuts the rope just as Rena sees him and shouts a warning. Dooley falls to the floor and Paladin makes sure that he's okay. When Marquette tells Dooley to get to work, Paladin says that the wager is still on and offers double or nothing. As Marquette considers the offer, Dooley says that for $100 he'd cross over Salamander Canyon. Realizing that Dooley has said too much, Marquette takes that bet.
As Dooley hesitates, Rena angrily points out that the canyon is 300 feet deep. Marquette says that the height shouldn't matter to a true acrobat, and Paladin tries to withdraw the bet. Marquette and Bolo both mock him and Paladin responds by wagering $1,000. Rather than appear cheap, Marquette doubles it and Paladin raises it another $1,000 so that they're wagering $3,000 on Dooley's ability. The rancher tells the bartender, Wally, to hold the money. The driver comes in and tells Paladin that he's ready to leave, but Paladin says that he's staying on to watch his investment.
When Paladin goes outside, Dooley follows him and thanks him for his support. Paladin angrily grabs Dooley and explains that he was trying to save Dooley's life by getting Marquette to fold. Dooley doesn't care how dangerous the stunt is and admits that he's nothing but a monkey on a stick. He figures that live or die, the townspeople will remember him as the man who dared to try. Rena comes out and invites Dooley to go to the canyon with them as they set up the wire. When Paladin notes her sudden enthusiasm for Dooley's wire-crossing, Rena insists that she's looking after the hobo and leads him away. As Paladin watches, he notices Dooley's discarded hobo stick and pack. Opening it, the gunfighter finds an old circus poster showing Dauntless Dooley walking the high wire. Rena comes back and warns Paladin that Marquette has too much power to topple. Unimpressed, Paladin says that he plans to topple the rancher anyway and shows Rena his card.
Later, Paladin goes back to the saloon and discovers that his driver is staying in town to bet on the crossing. A bookie has set up shop and is taking bets, while Rena is busy helping Dooley get drunk. Paladin tries to take the bottle away from Dooley but the hobo grabs it back, telling Paladin to leave her alone. When Rena tries to go back to Dooley, Paladin angrily offers to match whatever Marquette is paying her to make sure that Dooley fails. Rena insists that she's trying to save Dooley's life by keeping him from walking, but Paladin warns her that if Dooley doesn't do it then the townspeople will brand him a coward forever. Paladin bets $50 on Dooley at five-to-one odds and then gives the receipt to Rena as payment. She admits that Marquette has paid her $125 but still insists that she's doing the right thing by saving Dooley's life. Disgusted, Paladin tells her to earn her money from him by undoing what she's done to Dooley so he can cross, and Rena agrees.
The next day, everyone but Rena and Dooley have arrived at the canyon. Marquette tells Paladin that Dooley is ten minutes late, while Bolo watches over Wally and the $6,000. Paladin seemingly stalls for time, demanding to count the money. Marquette lets him and Paladin begins counting. Rena rides up in a wagon with Dooley and the rancher realizes that she's double-crossed him. Angry, Rena slaps Marquette and warns Paladin that Dooley is ready to chicken out.
As Marquette and Bolo try to convince Dooley that Paladin just wants to win the wager, the gunfighter comes over. When Bolo tries to stop him, Paladin draws on the cowhand and warns him off. He asks why Dooley doesn't work for circuses anymore and the hobo explains that he took a bad fall nine years ago. Dooley has recovered but he's lost his nerve. Paladin is willing to lose the wager by default and get Dooley out of town rather than see him killed, but reminds the acrobat that the townspeople will never let him forget his cowardice. Dooley considers while the townspeople cheer him. Steeling himself, he removes his coat and says that he'll do it.
Paladin tosses Dooley his hobo stick from where the man dropped it and the ex-acrobat begins his crossing. He makes it halfway across before losing his footing, but manages to catch himself as he falls. Dooley manages to remount the rope and keeps going, but the support strut on the town side starts to crack. Paladin forces Bolo and Marquette at gunpoint to grab the support and hold it together long enough for Dooley to complete his trip. Dooley drops to the other side and bows to the townspeople, while Paladin notices that Wally has disappeared. When Rena tells Paladin that Marquette and Bolo have slipped away, the gunfighter merely notes that double-crosses are tricky things and takes her and Dooley with him to the stagecoach.
Bolo takes Wally to an abandoned shed and takes the bag with the $6,000 from him. After he sends the bartender on his way, Marquette rides up and Bolo tells him that he's intimidated Wally into being silent. They open the bag... and discovers that there are only two things inside: Dooley's circus poster and rocks for weight.
On the stagecoach, Paladin questions Dooley's credentials and the hobo indignantly tries to take out his circus poster from his bundle. However, he discovers that Paladin has replaced it with Marquette's $3,000. When Dooley and Rena wonder how Paladin stole the money back, Paladin merely says that Dooley isn't the only one with a performing talent and plucks a rose out of the air for Rena.