Stanley (Stan Laurel) and Ollie (Oliver Hardy), with their faithful mule Dinah, are on their way to Brushwood Gulch. Ollie relaxes on a sled pulled by the mule while Stanley guides the mule. When the animal proceeds to cross a shallow creek, Ollie is separated and left lying on the sled in the water. He almost drowns when he steps and drops into a large pothole and is swallowed up by the unseen hole. In the next scene, Ollie is wrapped in a blanket and riding on the sled - on which he has constructed a make-shift line to dry his clothes.
They are on their way to Brushwood Gulch (only two miles away). Stan fails to stop a buckboard by hitching a ride with his thumb. To stop the next vehicle - a stagecoach, Stan parodies It Happened One Night (1934) by showing his leg to the stagecoach driver. On the stagecoach ride to town, Ollie tries to impress the only female passenger (Vivien Oakland) with small talk and meaningless non-sequiturs, causing her discomfort to grow very quickly:
A lot of weather we've been having lately...It's only four months to Christmas. Do you believe in Santa Claus?
In town, they discover that the lady's husband is the sheriff of Brushwood Gulch (Stanley Fields), telling him about her fellow passengers: "They've done nothing but annoy me, all the way in." He warns the two misfits to leave town as soon as possible:
Sheriff: Fiddlin' huh? Well, we don't like your kind around these parts. And there's one thing we don't allow. And that's messin' with our women. Now, if you want to stay healthy, you better catch the next coach out of town.
Outside the Mickey Finn Palace Saloon, they are transported into an eccentric, but cute and charming soft-shoe dance routine to the 1905 hit tune: "At the Ball, That's All," sung by cowboys (the Avalon Boys Quartet). It is one of the most lyrical moments on film.
The pair are in town to deliver the deed of a gold mine to a pretty young Mary Roberts (Rosina Lawrence), the orphaned daughter of their recently-deceased prospector partner. Inside the bar, they inquire of the bartender about the girl's whereabouts and are overheard by Mickey Finn. Stan stupidly divulges the reason for their visit to Finn:
Finn (deceitfully): Oh, I'm Miss Roberts' guardian. What do you want to see her for?
So the delighted bartender rushes upstairs to prepare Lola to substitute herself for Mary and claim the valuable deed from the two "desert rats." She eagerly cooperates: "For a gold mine, I could be Cleopatra." He takes the boys upstairs and tricks them by having them present the deed to his wife instead of to the real Mary Roberts, his demure kitchen maid. Lola melodramatically pretends to be terribly upset and shocked at the news of her Daddy's death:
Lola: Tell me, tell me about my dear, dear Daddy. Is it true that he's dead?
Ollie attempts to make "Mary" smile, exhorting her: "Remember, every cloud has a silver lining." Stan adds: "That's right. Any bird can build a nest, but it isn't everyone that can lay an egg. Is it Ollie?" Ollie presents the deed of "one of the richest gold mines in the world" to the wrong "Mary," giving it to her with a flourish: "Signed, sealed, and now delivered." Stan must practically undress Ollie to get one of "Mary's" family heirlooms - a golden locket - from around his neck. Stan tells her:
Now that you've got the mine, I'll bet you'll be a swell gold digger.
Down in the bar, Finn serves them "the best in the house" (champagne) and they join a cowboy to sing: "Trail of the Lonesome Pine." Mary is tricked into signing away her rights to the deed, thinking that she is signing other legal papers.
Casually as they are about to leave, the pair meet the real Mary Roberts and she tells them her name. When they realize their mistake - that they have given the gold mine deed to the wrong person - they find Mary slaving away in the kitchen:
Ollie: Well, who's that woman upstairs? (He points upward and Stan follows the direction of his finger)
Stan and Ollie discuss their predicament:
Stan: I think we've given that deed to the wrong woman. That's the first mistake we've made since that guy sold us the Brooklyn Bridge.
Determined to retrieve and reclaim the deed, Stan boasts and bets - something that he will soon regret:
Stan: We'll get that deed or I'll eat your hat.
They have a fast-paced free-for-all (of grabbing, snatching, losing, regaining, losing, and regaining) as they attempt to fight Finn and Lola for the deed. In one of his best routines, after Stan recovers the deed, he is isolated and locked in Lola's bedroom, where he is cornered, wrestled and tickled to death. She reduces him to helpless laughter when she gets the deed from its hiding place in his vest. Lola ends up with the deed, but the Stan and Ollie think the timely appearance of the Sheriff will help them, but they are wrong:
Sheriff (grimly): I thought I told you two dudes to catch the next coach out of town.
They are pursued by gun-fire as they flee the town, creating a swirling dusty cloud that follows behind them. In minutes, they are back at the creek, where disaster-prone Ollie disappears again into the same watery pothole.
In a woodsy area, they set up camp, stringing up a clothesline so Ollie can dry his clothes. To light Ollie's pipe, Stan ignites his thumb because their matches are wet.
Having lost an idle bet when he boasted about getting the deed back, Ollie decides to teach Stan that he mustn't make "rash promises." Stan has to eat Ollie's derby hat in another memorable scene. He starts crying initially, and then apprehensively eats a very crunchy piece. Unbelievably after a few bites, he realizes that he likes its taste immensely. He tucks a napkin in his collar, salts the derby, and takes great gusto in consuming it. Bewildered by what he has witnessed, Ollie has to stop him from finishing it. While Stan is getting Ollie's clothes off the line, Ollie sneaks a bite too, but immediately spits it out.
In one of the funniest slapstick sequences in cinematic history - the major set piece of the film, they attempt, by cover of night, to break into Finn's safe on the second floor of the saloon where the deed is located. Their first effort is to break into the Mickey Finn Palace through the front door. Stan successfully opens the lock of the iron guard gate, but Ollie struggles with the front door. Stan helps by getting behind him and pushing. Ollie crashes through the door, setting off an alarm, and sending them scurrying off in terror. Mickey Finn is awakened and comes down to investigate, but he is puzzled because he doesn't see anyone. Ollie reprimands Stan: "What did you want to go and push me in there like that for? You were the dumbest thing I ever saw."
They plan their next attack behind the saloon. Stan suggests that Ollie climb up on a shed to get to the balcony where the upper floor window is located. To provide help, Stan hoists Ollie's huge body up onto the shed, but his pal's tremendous weight causes him to crash through almost immediately. The noise and clatter startles and alerts Mickey Finn again, and he sits up in bed and races out the front door with a shotgun in hand.
With inspired stupidity and a block and tackle apparatus attached to the building, Stan hoists Ollie up with a rope trussed up around his large middle to the second floor's upstairs window. Ollie crosses his fingers on both hands, for good luck, and looks straight at the camera with a knowing glance. Of course, this idea fails when Stan pauses for a final pull and lets go to spit on his fingers: "Wait a minute until I spit on me hands!" Ollie's body is sent plummeting to the ground. They make up a game of seeing who can upend the other by pulling on the rope. After a few falls, Ollie decides to chastise Stan by slapping him on the palm of his extended hand with one end of the rope. Ollie hits him solidly - on the head, yet Stan reacts as if he has been hit painfully on the hand. He shakes, rubs and blows on his hand to lessen the pain.
In another attempt, they devise a rope-pulley system by tying one end of the rope to their mule Dinah, using the animal as a counterweight to get Ollie to the second floor. Stan mounts the mule and rides forward, causing Ollie to move upward. But when Stan obligingly gets off the mule to hand Ollie the break-in tools from the saddlebag, Ollie's weight sends the mule whooshing up in the air to the second floor balcony instead. Ollie is sent crashing down through the saloon's storm-cellar door. Stan gestures to Dinah: "Wait there. We'll be right up!" The mule noisily brays at them from the balcony. Lola chokes Mickey, thinking the strange noises are from his "laughing" in his sleep.
After finally succeeding in getting into the house by entering through the smashed door of the storm-cellar, they emerge through a trap-door opening. With a finger to his lips and a "shhh," Ollie warns Stan to keep quiet, but Stan accidentally drops the trapdoor on Ollie's head when Mary Roberts sees them and screams. Ollie's round head is the only part of his body that protrudes through the wooden trap-door. To hide Ollie's noggin when Finn races down the stairs with his gun, Stan covers Ollie's head with a bucket. The solidly-positioned bucket is kicked by Finn as he leaves, causing Ollie to have a bruised, swollen red nose. Stan's explanation of their presence to Mary is brilliantly pantomimed behind a closed door. Stan alerts her to flee with them from town as soon as they find the deed. And then to extricate his pal, he pulls, pushes, and twists Ollie's head, stretching his neck a few feet and snapping it back through the hole. After emerging through the trap door, Ollie exclaims hurtfully: "Oh me apple!"
The two sneak through the saloon, trying to keep as quiet as possible. But Stan foolishly inserts a coin into one of the slot machines - he hits the jackpot and the machine noisily rings and pays off. Coins spill all over the place as Stan looks on in dismay. Ollie is upset at him and doesn't allow him to pick up his winnings: "What did you want to go and do that for?" When their candle flames goes out, Stan magically ignites his thumb and lights their lamp. Up until this point, Ollie has vainly attempted to duplicate the trick, but has failed every time. He now tries one more time and to his astonished fear, his thumb lights up. He is terrified and jumps around, not knowing how to put the flame out.
Again, the disturbances alert Mickey Finn who makes another excursion downstairs to discover the source of the noises. The two hide in the body of a piano to escape notice but their movements on the piano wires give them away. When Finn lifts the lid and sees them there, he tortures them by sitting down and playing a raucous tune, causing the felt hammers of the sounding board of the instrument to pummel the boys' noses. The crescendos of his thunderous piece force them to emerge from the piano. When he pushes the lid down on them to crush them, the bottom of the piano falls out from their weight.
In the confusion, Ollie seizes Finn's shotgun and orders him upstairs to the safe to give them the deed. They force Lola to remain in her bedroom, and then tie Finn up in his bedroom to the ceiling light fixture in a diaper-like sling, strait-jacketing him in the bedsheets they have wrapped around him. The boys crash down the stairs with Dinah in tow, just as the fixture pulls out of the ceiling, sending plaster and Finn to the floor. Hot in pursuit after them, Finn's head is caught and stuck in his own anti-burglar guard gate, imprisoning him in the front of his own saloon.
They successfully manage to save the day and get the deed to Mary. As they head out of town toward the gold mine with Mary, they reach the town's outskirts.
Ollie: Well, now that our troubles are over, where do we go from here?
As they proceed on their way, the three begin singing "We're Going to Go Way Down to Dixie." Ollie nearly drowns again in the creek's pothole in the closing moments. Stan, Mary, and the mule hardly notice and proceed long.