Val Xavier, a drifter of obscure origins arrives at a small town and gets a job in a store run by Lady Torrence, a sex-starved woman whose husband Jabe M. Torrance is dying of cancer upstairs. Val is pursued by Carol Cutere, the enigmatic local tramp-of-good-family, who covets his snakeskin jacket as much as his body and tries to seduce him in the cemetery. Val is more attracted to the mature Lady and gets her pregnant.
Double-crossed and left without water in the desert, Cable Hogue is saved when he finds a spring. It is in just the right spot for a much needed rest stop on the local stagecoach line, and Hogue uses this to his advantage. He builds a house and makes money off the stagecoach passengers. Hildy, a whore from the nearest town, moves in with him. Hogue has everything going his way until the advent of the automobile ends the era of the stagecoach.