Paladin is in the Carlton lobby reading an article to his newest girlfriend, Beverly. She isn't interested in the recent discovery of Indian ruins in the Yavapai Valley in Arizona. Beverly is interested in the fact he's already taken a job there, but only because he's trying to run out on her. Paladin finally suggests that she look upon his departure as a compliment to her and has Hey Boy send a card to Bud Webster in Arizona.
Several days' riding later, Paladin arrives at Bud's farmstead and finds the farmer chasing chickens in the yard. Bud's three daughters Jacqueline, Caroline, and Willodean immediately run out, eager to see a man in the male-starved valley. Bud has received Paladin's card but warns him that there's nothing there for him to do because there aren't any ruins. Paladin points out that the reporters stated otherwise, while Bud notices that Paladin is wearing an expensive outfit. He immediately turns matchmaker and tries to set up Paladin with his equally eager daughters, touting their virtues. They suggest that their father fetch their brother Everette, giving them time alone with Paladin. Paladin suggests that he leave if there's no ruins, but Bud is now eager to keep him there. The farmer, a former shoemaker, complains that the locals in town sold him the land but didn't tell him about the continual drought conditions.
Everette rides up and talks about how he needs more of something to do his work. Realizing he's about to give away too much, Everette quickly starts talking about how he needs a "plow," and suggests that Bud use some of their "crop" to get credit at the store in town to make the purchase. Bud is worried that the townspeople will figure out what's going on but admits that he has no choice, and Paladin quickly opts to ride with the farmer into town rather than stay with the daughters.
When Bud and Paladin ride into town, the saloon owner, Doris, spots them and tells her three men--Herb, Bob, and Bill Simms--to get ready. Bill leaves, and Herb and Bob grab Paladin when he enters the saloon. They sit him down and she offers the gunslinger a drink. Doris eagerly tells him that her family has owned much of the land in the valley since 1832 but the area has suffered from continual droughts. They either need to dig wells or move, and either one takes more money than she has. Paladin points out that Bud owns the land but Doris insists that she kept the mineral rights and that anything he finds belongs to her. Bob explains about the legends of Yavapai gold in the area, the same legends that Paladin was reading about in the newspaper.
Paladin assures Doris that Bud hasn't told him anything about gold, but she doesn't believe him and warns him not to mix in. Bill drags in Bud and tells his employer that the farmer was buying blasting powder at the general store. Bud immediately hires Paladin to defend him and then argues with Doris over whether her mineral rights entitle her to treasure. Bill shows everyone what Bud was using to buy supplies: a solid gold toad. While everyone is distracted, Paladin grabs a revolver and fires a shot into the air, telling everyone to be quiet. Doris offers Webster a 50/50 split but he doesn't want it and threatens to go to the sheriff. Paladin points out that if he does then word will soon get out about the treasure, and tells Bud to get his blasting powder.
Once the farmer leaves, Doris offers Paladin double Bud's fee to work for her. He refuses but points out that she might as well let Bud keep digging so they can find out if there is more treasure out there. Impressed with his reasoning, Doris asks why she should trust him and is doubly impressed with his honesty when Paladin admits that he's in it for himself. She agrees to Paladin's plan... but once he leaves, she sends Bill to keep an eye on Bud in case she's wrong.
Two days later, Paladin returns to town and rides out to where Bud and Everette are digging. Everette wonders where Paladin went and the gunslinger says that he went to the land office in Tucson. Bud explains that they found something and has Paladin escort them to a half-buried altar. A stone path leads away from it into a shaft in the nearby mountains, and Bud explains that they found the golden toad in the shaft. As Bud and Paladin start to go in, the farmers talk about how there were legends of the Indians worshiping a giant creature beneath the earth. When Everette heard something moving behind a slab within the shaft, he started digging.
Bud takes Paladin down the
shaft to a sandstone slab blocking further progress. They hear a
roaring noise behind it, and Bud points out that the walls are cracked
and they'll have to proceed carefully, digging by hand. Before they can
proceed, gunshots ring out from the mouth of the shaft. They investigate and find Doris and her three men firing at Everette. Doris
calls to Bud, saying that Everette fired first, and he points out that
they were coming with guns out. The woman tells Bud that she wants her
share of the treasure.
An angry Paladin yells, telling them that they're fighting over nothing. He asks for three minutes to prove it. When Doris refuses, he grabs a box of dynamite and holds it up. He warns everyone that if they fire then the dynamite may go off and seal off the shaft forever. Paladin runs into the shaft and Doris tells her men to stop shooting. She then runs forward and talks to Bud, suggesting that they work things out on their own. He agrees, admitting that he likes her nerve.
When Bud and Doris go in after Paladin, they discover that he's planted the dynamite at the slab. He's lit a 30-second fuse and runs out, insisting that Bud will be a rich man. They run after him and the dynamite goes off just as they get clear. A despondent Bud admits that he didn't want the now-buried treasure: just a decent life. As they watch, water trickles and then flows out of the shaft. Paladin explains that the Yavapai worshiped the golden toad because it was an amphibious creature that lived in water, and they valued water. The Indians had built an extensive aqueduct system in the area, but an earthquake sealed up the shaft, forcing the Yavapai to leave.
As the water flows down into the desert below, Doris and Bud realize that no one owns the land. As they begin to argue, Paladin tells them that he filed a claim on the land two days ago. He assures them that he will charge a reasonable rate for the water and they'll all come out ahead. Doris and her men disagree, but Paladin tells them that the newly created Yavapai Company will give out free water shares to married couples. Rather than shoot, Bill, Herb, and Bob run off to the Webster farmstead to find Charlotte, Willodean, and Jacqueline. Everette goes to find his girlfriend, leaving Bud and Doris alone. They complain that there's no one else in the valley to marry, but Paladin points out that shouldn't be an issue. After a moment, they realize what he means and smile at each other.
A few days later, the weddings are done and Paladin rides out to see Bud and Doris. They're already making irrigation ditches, and Bud points out that Paladin will only make $1,000 a year. The farmer admits that it's reasonable after all and he and his wife give Paladin the golden toad as a token of their thanks.
Written by Gadfly on Aug 26, 2018