Travis hires Toby Mills, an alcoholic who was once a great lion tamer, to work for the circus. The show's current big cat tamer, who is as brutal to his employees and wife as he is to his animals, takes pleasure in tormenting the man for his past failures, ultimately leading to a fateful confrontation in cage with an angry lion.
The land leased for a week's worth of circus performances turns out to be owned by the estranged husband and son of Casey Thompson's star attraction - female sharpshooter. Bonnie's mixed emotions about seeing her child nearly causes disaster when she shoots her assistant by accident during a performance.
When outlaws steal the circus' receipts and beat Casey Thompson in the process, Ben Travis mounts the nearest horse, a highly trained Lippizan stallion and sets off in hot pursuit. When the horse is killed in the effort, Travis commences a search to find a suitable replacement for the stallion's lovely trainer.
The circus troupe turns on Casey Thompson when he dismisses the physician he has just hired, a Dr. Sam Applewhite, immediately after learning that "he" was actually a woman doctor. When one of his performers cracks her skull, Dr. Sam proves her worth by performing an emergency operation to save the young woman's life.
When Casey Thompson is seriously injured, Tony Gentry rides to the nearest settlement to get a doctor. He discovers the town is being held captive by an outlaw gang whose leader is forcing its only physician to keep watch over his dying brother.
A woman, on the run after shooting her vicious husband, stows away in Casey's wagon. Casey agrees to let her join his circus as the target in a knife-throwing act, but local lawmen and her vengeful spouse soon arrive to exact vengeance.
Desperate to get an elephant, Casey Thompson travels far into the hinterlands to pick up a pachyderm he purchased from another wilderness circus went out of business. Upon arrival he discovers an additional expense he hadn't counted on - the elephant was almost literally eating the livery stable owner out of house and home. Unable to meet the feed bill, Casey and the livery stable owner must travel across to hostile territory on the beast to obtain the necessary funds to pay off his debt.
Casey and Ben decide to journey to sunny California for the circus' winter quarters. They must get across the mountain passes before they are trapped by the first snow of winter, but their journey is hindered by ranchers who try to hire their men and horse thieves who run off their stock.
The Thompson and Travis Circus arrives in the remote town of Purgatory, hoping to play before hundreds of miners. The town appears to be devoid of potential customers, though, and when Travis and Gentry make a play for a pretty girl, her suspicious brother and his men capture the two men and force them to join the enslaved Chinese laborers forced to work in a nearby mine.
Thompson discovers the circus' remaining food supply has been tainted when his tightrope walker is struck down by food poisoning. Two weeks in any direction from the nearest point of resupply, the showmen must become buffalo hunters and come into conflict with white men with competing interests and Indians led by Quannah Parker who want the buffalo for their own needs.
Ben and Tony capture Cato Richards, an ex-slave, trying to steal food from the circus and offer him a job as a roustabout. After a running gunfight with a band of Comanche Indians where Cato demonstrates his shooting skills, Cato tells Tony the real reason he joined the troupe - so he could get transportation to a town he knows an ex-Union officer lives. He plans to avenge himself on the man who gave the order to burn the plantation and kill its elderly owner where he lived during the Civil War.
When a hot-air balloonist crashes into a building near the Thompson and Travis Circus is located and draws a huge crowd, Ben and Tony immediately try to hire the pretty blonde to perform in their show. Ben's attraction isn't just monetary, though - he has romance on his mind.
Casey tries to reform Will Grady, an old friend, inveterate liar and ex-convict who spent fifteen years in the territorial prison for bigamy. Grady isn't out of jail long finds himself behind bars awaiting trial for the murder of the woman whose testimony sent him to prison. Casey is convinced that Grady's former cellmates who believed one of Casey's wilder tales, actually committed the crime and sends Ben and Tony to capture the villains before Grady is falsely convicted.
Due to a lack of communication between Casey and Ben, the circus has two new prime attractions and no money to pay their creditors. Ben tries to make up for the shortfall by entering a high-stakes poker game, but winds up deeper in debt and framed for murder to boot.
Tony Gentry, the T & T Circus' advance man, arrives in New Atlanta, a town settled by ex-Southerners like himself, but discovers there's little Southern hospitality in the small burg. In fact, there's a town ordinance against circuses or shows of any kind. Not willing to take "no" for an answer Casey Thompson manages to get a waiver to allow a performance but fails to read the find print stating that the circus must remain within the town limits while he courts one of the town matriarchs.
Advance man Tony Gentry reports that the next town the circus will visit, Paradise, will live up to its name. It has everything a circus needs - plenty of paying customers, good water, a good campsite - everything except fresh meat. The only ranch with sufficient quantity to meet the circus' needs refuses to strike a deal with Tony, so co-owner Ben Travis decides to take over the negotiations and discovers that the cantankerous ranch owner is a lovely, love-starved woman.
Luke Sanders, a member of a non violent religious group, the Duncanites, which his Uncle is the head of, leaves home, no longer able to be non violent in the face of men employed by a local rancher who is trying to force the group from their land. Luke joins the "Frontier Circus" unaware that he is wanted for the murder of that local rancher, the widow of whom also happens to be an "old friend" of Ben Travis.
The aerialist act The Daring Durandos has suffered since the marriage of Paco to Maria. The youngest member, Tina, has sabotaged the trio with lies and half-truths, all of which come to a head as Ben Travis tries to take a hand.