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The Forty-Niners and the California Gold Rush (Disney Channel, 9-9:47 p.m.): When TV documentaries look at history these days, they often do so through the eyes of people who have lived it. Personal diaries, old photos, published memoirs are called into play - and in the case of near history, interviews provide first-hand accounts.

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Disney uses personal stories in this program, part of its series ``Adventures of the Old West.'' The experiences of a cross section of people give viewers a feeling of the expectant atmosphere and hard going during the California Gold Rush of 1849. One of these travelers had no choice: Coffey Thompson was an African-American slave who at length was able to buy his freedom. Michele Thompson, one of his descendants, let the program use photos, the family Bible, and Coffey's emancipation deed. * WEDNESDAY

Reflections on Elephants (PBS, 8-10 p.m.): In addition to their intelligence, elephants have a social life that scientists are just beginning to unravel. Some of their strikingly cooperative behavior is studied in this National Geographic special made by Dereck and Beverly Joubert. They are the award-winning filmmakers responsible for ``Eternal Enemies,'' which proved one of the most potent, memorable, and dramatic African nature films ever made when it aired on PBS in January 1992.

In ``Reflections,'' the filmmakers find communication, mutual help, and what certainly looks like compassion among the world's largest free-roaming herd of wild elephants on their ranges in Botswana. Some myths are dispelled (the notion, for instance, that lions never attack elephant calves), some firsts recorded (an abandoned calf is summarily adopted by a herd - something very rare even among these ``civic minded'' creatures). When one calf sinks in the mud of a water hole, the adults organize a rescue - one drives off buffalo, some flatten the steep river bank, others help the calf.

Evening News From Moscow (C-Span, 7:25 - 8 a.m., EST): A report in Russian with simultaneous English translation.

Please check local listings for these programs.

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