Set in the American Southwest in the 1870's, Forty Dollars is a western with an eclectic blend of many different characters consisting of southern expatriates, carpetbaggers turned ranchers, Mexican bandits, working cowboys, and a biblical quoting bounty hunter. The central figure is Jake Romero, a white man raised by Lipan Apaches and trained to be a scout with uncanny abilities, some of which are mystical or shamanistic in nature.
Jake is hired by a wealthy rancher to track for a vigilante group whose mission is to rid the territory of cattle rustlers and horse thieves. After an eventful three weeks in which he witnesses a lynching, is involved in a shootout with a nest of rustlers, and has a disastrous encounter with Mexican bandits and an expatriated Southern General, Jake returns to the ranch to collect his pay. The rancher refuses to pay him, so Jake steals the man's prize stallion, stating that the rancher will get the horse back when Jake gets his forty dollars.
This sets the stage for a confrontation between Jake and everyone that wants a piece of him, for one reason or another.