McCord rides into Silverton and notices the citizens gathering outside a saloon. One mother calls her son Tommy to her side and orders him home, but he wants to see the coming shootout. As he hides behind a wagon to watch, McCord hears a gunshot. A few seconds later, Sheriff Dave Baker staggers out of the saloon and collapses, dead. The mother, Dora Kendall, goes to the sheriff’s side and confirms that he’s dead. She looks up at the townspeople and asks if any of the men will do anything, but they shrug and walk away. Dora picks up the gun and goes inside while McCord goes to the sheriff’s body.
Inside, outlaw Joe Latigo says that Baker shouldn’t have tried to outdraw him and invites the deputy to give it a try. Dora comes up behind Joe and draws on him, and says that Joe’s father Bill killed her husband. Joe warns her that he can shoot and kill her before she can shoot him. McCord comes in and stops Dora, and tells Joe to leave it as it is. He tries to draw on McCord, who shoots him dead in self-defense.
A local businessman, Wes Trent, invites McCord to stay on as sheriff. McCord explains that he was only there looking for work as a mine engineer and that Sheriff Baker was an old friend who recommended him. Trent still insists and the deputy, Bill Tomlin, objects, saying he was next in line. The businessman says that Tomlin had plenty of chances but did nothing. When McCord refuses, Trent says that he’ll offer him $20 a day in gold. McCord is surprised at the amount but admits that he’ll need the money for a pack mule and equipment. He accepts the job for a couple of weeks to make enough money and tells Deputy Tomlin to see to Baker.
McCord turns to Dora, who explains that the sheriff before Baker was her husband, and was shot down by Joe’s father, Bill. McCord admits that he needs the money and Dora warns him that he’s giving up his life for the price of a mule and supplies. She tells McCord that Baker was the third sheriff to be killed in the last year, and they all three thought they could handle the Latigos. Dora warns that it’s all just a game and that McCord will end up like the rest.
Later, McCord posts signs announcing a gun ban. The townspeople find it funny, particularly dealer Bud Lee, and consider disobeying. One of them, Jess Muhler, goes to see McCord and warns that no one will comply. He points out that Bud has no intention of obeying and was a good friend of Joe’s. Once Jess leaves, McCord takes a shotgun and goes to the saloon to confront Bud. Before he goes in, he tells the townspeople that they have an hour to turn over their guns or face arrest. McCord storms in and catches Bud by surprise. Tomlin disarms the dealer, who accuses McCord of cowardice and demands a fair draw. McCord says that he saved the town the expense of a burial, goes outside, and orders Muhler to turn over his gun. He gives everyone else an hour and walks away, and Muhler warns that he won’t last as long as the other sheriffs.
When McCord checks his sign, he finds a challenge from Bill Latigo posted on it. He tells Muhler that he’ll meet it and goes back to the sheriff’s office to show Tomlin the note. Tomlin warns that a lot of people have come to town to see the big shootout and warns that Latigo isn’t a punk like his son. McCord sends the deputy out to order the townspeople back. As they do, Latigo rides down the street. When Tomlin goes inside, he discovers that McCord has disappeared.
Latigo dismounts and calls McCord out. McCord comes up behind Latigo and tells Tomlin to disarm him. Latigo accuses him of cowardice and points out that McCord is the coward of Bitter Creek. Tomlin hesitates and Latigo accuses him of cowardice and asks if McCord tricked his son as well. McCord repeats his order to drop the gun or ride out of town. After a moment, Latigo mounts up and rides out.
Muhler and the others confront McCord and tell him to get out of town. He tries to throw a punch and McCord decks him. Trent and the others see the children pretending to be McCord and gunning down each other from surprise, and call McCord over. When he points out that there haven’t been any killings, Trent says that they wanted McCord to kill the outlaws, and that the town has its pride. Disgusted, McCord tells him that the only thing they have to be proud of is their reputation for getting sheriffs killed, and he plans to stay alive.
Later, Tomlin receives a note and shows it to the town council. It’s from Latigo, who says that he’s coming to town for another showdown and wants a fair fight. Trent is fed up with McCord’s way and tells the council that he’ll make sure that Latigo gets what he wants. He goes to see McCord and shows him the note. Dora comes in as Trent says that he’ll dismiss McCord without pay despite his contract if he doesn’t fight. Even Dora says that McCord has to set as an example as a killer, not a coward. McCord tells them that he’s trying to set an example for law and order, and hands over his badge.
As McCord prepares to ride out, Latigo steps out onto the street and calls him out. McCord points out that one of them is going to die and it doesn’t have to be because he’s leaving. He tells Latigo that he can boast he ran him out if he wants, but Latigo wants revenge for his son. He draws and McCord kills him. Trent runs out to congratulate him and says they can forget his resignation. McCord says that it was nothing but murder even though Latigo drew first. When Dora says that Latigo drew first and he can stay now that he’s proven his courage, McCord refuses. He points out that Tommy is now playing at shooting down his friends and says that one day he’ll grow up to be a real gunslinger and end up dead as well. Trent offers McCord his pay and a bonus for Latigo, and McCord punches him and rides away.